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Top 12 Bulgarian Festivals You Need To Check Out
Written by travel writer, Bilyana from Owl Over The World.
Bulgaria is a country with rich culture and unique traditions. Bulgarians are very proud of them, and they have been passed on from generation to generation for years, if not decades or centuries. From chasing evil spirits away to dancing barefoot on smoldering embers, Bulgarian traditions showcased at these festivals in Bulgaria will leave you feeling “WOW,” and it is a guarantee that they will put a smile on your face.
Bulgarian Festival #1: Rose Festival
Bulgaria is famous for its roses. The country is one of the biggest producers of rose oil in the whole world. The Bulgarian “attar” of roses is a major component in the perfumery business across the globe. It is also used in the space industry, as a greasing component in space equipment, due to its resistance to temperature changes.
The Rose Festival is held in Kazanlak, which is part of the Rose Valley, and is held every year, during the first weekend in June. The festival was first celebrated in 1903; since then, it has been kept going by generations of enterprising people from the valley. Nowadays the festival has become an international event, visited by thousands of people, both locals and tourists. Three events during the festival are a must.
Nowadays the festival has become an international event, visited by thousands of people, both locals and tourists. During the festival, three events are a must-visit: the parade along the town’s streets, the election of Queen Rose, and the early morning ritual in the rose fields. You can also visit the Museum of Roses in Kazanlak.
Bulgarian Festival #2: Cherry Festival in Kyustendil
Taking place annually for two days in the second half of June in Kyustendil, known as Bulgaria’s “Fruit Garden,” the Cherry Festival is one of the greatest Bulgarian festivals. The celebration of the area’s fruit orchards started with the first national fruit exhibition in the country in 1896, and its popularity has only grown since then.
The Cherry Festivals is focused on, well… cherries. These tasty fruits and their gorgeous blossoms are the stuff of myths and beauty in many countries the world over. At the festival, you’ll find countless tables loaded with buckets of cherries, all part of a competitive exhibition.
Additionally, many different products are made from cherries, from cherry cakes and jam to carved cherrywood. Even the tables themselves are part of a competition—the most beautiful table wins!
Bulgarian Festival #3: Nestinarstvo
Nestinarstvoto, which is fire dancing, is one of the oldest Bulgarian traditions. It was practiced in Thrace in the past, and today it is preserved only in three villages in the Strandzha Mountain – Bulgari, Brodilovo, and Kosti. According to some researchers, the ritual roots lay in Bulgaria’s pagan past and are derived from the cult of the Sun in the Thracians.
The day of the ritual starts with a dressing of fire-icons. Then with the procession, which includes the whole village, icons refer to the holy spring of St. Constantine, where the ritual washing of the stalk is conducted.
After sunset, the people would build up a massive fire and dance traditional Bulgarian dance (Horo) until the fire dies and only embers remain. After that, the culmination of the tradition begins. Nestinari, in a state of trance, enters the circle with shouts, and the first one crosses the embers of the cross and then the others.
Nestinari, who is now in a trance state, enters the ring of fire with shouts, and the first one crosses the embers, and then the other Nestinari enters the circle. It is believed that due to being in a state of trance, they don’t feel the pain from the raging fire.
The festival is included in the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Today the ritual is best preserved in the village of Bulgari in Strandzha Mountain and is held every year on 3 June.
Bulgarian Festival #4: Surva
The International Festival of Masquerade Games “Surva” in Pernik is the biggest one in Bulgaria and the Balkans. It’s one of the greatest performances of traditional folk games and customs with masks in the world.
In the past, the ‘mummers’ were dressed in a mix of male and female clothes and scary masks. They hang from themselves bells and cowbells; they carry swords or sticks to scare away the barren winter and the evil spirits. Nowadays, the festival is a joyful celebration that aims to recreate the past and bring joy and fun. The festival is held every year on the last Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of January.
The festival is held annually on the last Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of January. Traditionally the festival involves about 6000 people from over 100 masquerade groups from all Bulgarian regions. People come to participate for the emotion and the fun.
Bulgarian Festival #5: International Bagpipe Festival in Gela
Arguably the most unusual of all major Bulgarian festivals is the International Bagpipe Festival, which takes place in the village of Gela in August. This is a traditional festival preserved by the Rhodope Mountains people and clans, aimed to promote their folklore and culture.
While many people associate bagpipes with Scotland, Bulgaria also has its very own version. Playing the Rhodope Mountains bagpipe (locally known as the Kaba Gaida), one of Bulgaria’s most significant folk music instruments, is a prerequisite for Bulgarians.
The festival also attracts visitors from all over the world, including places like the Netherlands, France, Hungary, Sweden, and even Japan. More than 100 bagpipers participate in the event, while visitor numbers exceed 15,000.
Bulgarian Festival #6: Rozhen Festival
Rozhen National Folklore Festival showcases Bulgarian folklore and livestock. It’s performed on the meadows of Rozhen Pass, near Rozhen peak in Rhodopes Mountain. The goal of the festival is to popularize Bulgarian folk dances and song art.
The fair presents Bulgarian folk music, customs, dances, clothing, costumes, and rituals. Traditionally the fair begins with the Бела съм бела юначе (Bela sam Bela yunache) song, the unofficial anthem of the Rhodopes Mountain. The festival is held for 2-3 days in August.
Bulgarian Festival #7: Lazaruvane
Not a huge gathering in one particular spot but rather a tradition that takes place in villages and towns all over the country; Lazaruvane is celebrated on St. Lazarus Day, the Saturday eight days before Easter. This ancient Bulgarian tradition announces the beginning of spring.
What’s so remarkable about this event is that it’s performed only by girls. On St. Lazarus Day, groups of girls (usually about 16 years old and unmarried) walk across their town, dressed in traditional clothing, singing folk songs, and visiting every home in town. Symbolizing the girl’s growth, a girl is deemed ready to marry once this ritual has competed.
Bulgarian Festival #8: Zheravna National Costume Festival
Zheravna is a village in the southeast part of Bulgaria. Every year since 2008, the village held the National Festival of Folk Costumes. Participation in the festival is a voluntary act, and those who want to join it have to respect its rules.
The main rule is to be dressed in folk costumes. It is forbidden to use some objects from modern life. The use of a mobile phone is allowed only in the calling areas. The purpose of these rules is to strive to appreciate Bulgarians’ day-to-day life some 100-150 years ago.
Traditionally the festival is held for three days (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) on the last weekend of August.
Bulgarian Festival #9: Carnival of Humour and Satire in Gabrovo
Known as Bulgaria’s capital of satire and humor, Gabrovo hosts the Carnival of Humour and Satire each year in mid-May. This is an incredibly fun festival, one of Bulgaria’s best festivals, especially if you like a good laugh.
Nothing is taken seriously during this carnival. Huge crowds fill the streets of Gabrovo, part of the procession that slowly runs through the city center. There are cartoons and sculptures of significant events, famous people, and local heroes. People are dressed up in all kinds of characters, from gypsies and musketeers to wizards and toreadors. Additionally, traditional Balkan music and dances accompany this most fun of Bulgarian festivals. Make sure to check it out if you’re in the country in May.
Bulgarian Festival #10: Pirin Sings Folklore Festival
One of the most important cultural festivals in Bulgaria is the Pirin Sings Folklore Festival. First organized in 1962, it is fascinating because it successfully tracked, revived, and protected Bulgaria’s cultural heritage. The festival attracts a lively bunch of performers, young and old, lovers of old traditions and ethnography, and tourists who simply want a glimpse of local Bulgarian culture.
Pirin Sings occurs in the middle of summer at the Predel Pass in the Rila and Pirin Mountains. People from all fourteen villages in the region gather at the festival for a couple of days of songs, dances, tales and stories, music, and other folkloric fun.
Bulgarian Festival #11: Burgas Street Food And Art Festival
In the middle of summer, the beautiful port area of Burgas transforms. It becomes the setting of a bustling festival of street food, culture, arts, music, and literature for five days. There will be mobile kitchens, street food trucks, and marquees set up, where chefs from Burgas and elsewhere in Bulgaria will cook up the most delicious dishes.
In addition to cold food and hot specialties, there’ll also be ice-cold beer and tasty cocktails. Tasting and sampling events occur all over, while visitors looking for a hands-on experience can join workshops and watch culinary demonstrations. This is definitely one of the most exciting festivals in Bulgaria for foodies.
Bulgarian Festival #12: International Folklore Festival Varna
For folkloric dancing and music, the International Folklore Festival in Varna is a fantastic event to attend. This festival doesn’t only focus on Bulgarian culture but features folk ensembles from all across the world.
Since its first edition in 1992, more than 150 different groups have participated, hailing from no fewer than 50 other countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Additionally, more than 60 folk ensembles from Bulgaria, both amateur and professional, have also performed at this vibrant festival.
Through video screenings, live performances, street processions, outdoor concerts, and creative meetings, the world really comes together. The Varna International Folklore Festival occurs every year in the first week of August, attracting a huge crowd of 15,000 people.
A bonus festival (my favorite)
Bonus Festival in Bulgaria: The Blueberry Festival
This Bulgarian festival is not famous, but I wanted to include it because it’s my favorite one. The festival is held high in the mountain at the beautiful Stara Planina, specifically in the Ambaritsa hut. This festival is a three-day program with a lot of music, games, fun, and of course, as the name suggests, it involves blueberries. (and the mekitsi ever). I went to the festival last year as a volunteer for one week. I met a lot of awesome people and had a fabulous time.
This year’s dates are not announced yet, so follow them on Facebook for up-to-date information.
Are you going to consider joining one of these festivals in Bulgaria? If so, which one will it be?
These Bulgarian festivals are just one of the reasons to visit the country. Bulgaria is a fantastic place with so many places worth visiting. If you ask me when is the right time to visit Bulgaria, well, my answer would be NOW!
Main Photo: Festival of Authentic Folklore in DorkovoShare