Bulgarian Folklore

The approach of Bulgarian scholarship and culture to folklore is characterized by some specific features. As a rule, the Bulgarian folklore is defined as the aspect of tradition associated with the agrarian times of society and involving forms of creativity that can be described as artistic. By this are meant music and folk art, songs and dances mostly, the or al tradition in all its various forms - from popular tales to proverbs and sayings - and the plastic art, which is found in embroidery, stone work, wood-carving, figures shaped on bread, etc. As a whole, this folk art developed until the second half of the 19th century and it has been perceived by the Bulgarian scholars as the classical folklore of the Bulgarian people who have their specific place in the Balkan and European cultural tradition. From the middle of the 19th century on there began a change in the Bulgarian cultural model represented by the establishment of an autonomous artistic culture - literature, music, theatre, etc. At all its stages of growth, this new model has implied a constant interest in folklore. Since then other forms of folk art have appeared and developed, and they have been connected most generally with the urban tradition in a society that has its own path in the modern world.

The classical Bulgarian folklore bears all the characteristics of a rich and still vital cultural system. In regional terms, it developed in the lands inhabited by the Bulgarian ethnos, i.e it took shape on a territory in southeastern Europe which stretches beyond the frontiers of present-day Bulgaria. Bearer of this culture is also a numerous diaspora living in southern Russia, in the Ukraine and Moldova, as well as in the region of Banat in contemporary Roumania. The intensive studies carried out in the past decades have shown the strong continuity of classical Bulgarian folklore and the spiritual life of the ancient Thracians, as well as a complex transformation of the Slavonic and Proto-Bulgarian tradition that took place with particular intensity in the 9th century after their conversion to Christianity and the establishment of the Slavonic-Bulgarian script. The rich documentation, gathered in the 19th and 20th centuries, demonstrates that the Bulgarian folklore connects deeply the spiritual growth of the Bulgarians with the cultural traditions of the other Balkan nations, irrespective of their religious identification and independent ethnic history. At the same time, this folklore reveals, intrinsically, a profound relationship with the life of the Bulgarian ethnos, in terms of both concrete daily experience and historical destiny. Hence, the dual character of the Bulgarian folklore as a type of culture. On the one hand, it is displayed as a spiritual expression of an agrarian type of sociality, where the central point is to recreate the annual farming cycle and the human life cycle in a cultural tradition based on folklore ritualism. On the other hand, it is permeated by the historical time of the Bulgarians; the interpretation of this time has found its most imposing expression in the Bulgarian heroic epic, which is kindred to the Serb's epos and commensurate with sagas like "Kalevala", the Russian bylini epic, the epic corpora of some Asian and Caucasian peoples. Both aspects of the Bulgarian folklore are based on a mythology; which underlies all - the beliefs in vampires and goblins, the fascinating characters of woodland fairies /samodivi/ and dragons, the sinister mythologizations of maladies, the essentially mythological plots as "A Lad Outruns the Sun", "A Maiden Outshines the Sun", etc.

The Bulgarian calendar and family rituals, along with all other things, contain one main motif - the marriage theme, and one main type of characters - those who are going to be married. It is noteworthy that in the centre of wintertime rituals are the ceremonial companies of unmarried young lads who, after midnight, on 24 December (6 January) take their ritual route from house to house, forming bands called koledari or survakari who sing a cycle of songs with an intricate mythical content. An analogue of these are the springtime maiden rituals, particularly what are known as lazarki - ritual groups of girls performing a specific repertory full of tragic themes. In this context, the Bulgarian masquerade ritualism is very rich, but it does not include the carnival in its West-European tradition. A deep ritualization of the male-female relation is found in such ancient forms of joint work as the sedenki and tlaki /working-bees/, in harvesting or in the magnificent festive horos, especially picturesque on days like Easter and Saint George's Day. As far as the human life cycle is concerned, the focus of the system of rituals is associated with the event of birth, with a well-developed practice of wedding festivities united by the figure of the bride, and an elaborate tradition of funeral ceremonies fostering the further growth of the cult of the dead.

Bulgarian festivals and customs date back to ancient times when men tried to appease the natural elements and trembled before their power. Full of beauty, gaiety, mystical voices, fiery dances and brightly colored costumes - Bulgarian folklore has to be seen, felt and experienced!

Fire dancing is the most ancient mysterious ritual - barefooted dancers performing on burning embers. This religious and mystical ritual for expelling illness, for health and fruitfulness is one that must be seen to believe it.

Kukeri Carnival held in the region of Dupnitsa and Pernik is a splendid festival of brightly colored masks and costumes which marks the beginning of the spring. Every participant makes his own multi-coloured personal mask, covered with beads, ribbons and woollen tassels. The heavy swaying of the main mummer is meant to represent wheat heavy with grain, and the bells tied around the waist are intended to drive away the evil spirits and the sickness.

The Festival of Roses

It is a lovely festival celebrated in the Rose Valley near the town of Kazanluk (at the foot of the Balkan Range) on the first weekend of June every year. The festival is a pageant of beauty in the unique Rose Valley. In the run-up of the event, a Queen Rose beauty contest is held in several rounds. Artists, actors, circus performers, writers and singers flock to Kazanluk at the start of June. The Bulgarian oleaginous rose yields 70 percent of the world's attar of roses used by every perfume company as an essential component of its products.
The history tells that in the Thracian provinces of the Roman Empire, the Thracians grew 12 varieties of roses, one of them known as the "Thracian Rose". 
In the 1270, during the crusades, Count de Gruye brought the Damascus rose from Syria to the valley of Kazanlak where conditions proved excellent. Experts claim that Bulgarian roses and rose oil owe their unique properties to the local climate and the generous soil. The temperatures in February, when roses bud, are ideal. The blossoms are picked in May and June, when high humidity is very important. So is the cinnamon-forest soil in the area and, last but not least, the remarkable skills of the Bulgarian rose-oil producers.

On March, 1st the Bulgarian people use to wear tiny red and white trimmings. These are known as martenitsas - named after this month.

Martenitsas are made of twined red and white threads - woollen, silk, or cotton. These threads are used to form tassels, pompons, circles, balls, squares, human or animal figures. Over the past several decades the tradition has been innovated by attaching all kinds of representations and symbols made of wood, leather, ceramics, metal foil or plastic to the thread-made martenitsas. Among these "trinkets" are miniature pistols, footballs, keys. Next to the representations of Mickey Mouse one could see Batman's mask, images of pop singers, or the signs of the Zodiac. If in earlier times the "production" of martenitsas was a home-based female occupation, nowadays it is a seasonal industry. What is more, sometimes martenitsas are genuine works of art.

Martenitsas are pinned up or fixed in a similar way on one's left side - above one's heart, on the overcoat, the jacket, the dress, the pullover, etc. Everybody buys them to give them as presents to the loved ones, especially children.

According to an ancient legend, martenitsas bring health, happiness and longevity. Old-time Bulgarians believed there existed some evil force in nature called by them "loshotiya" /ill fortune/, which awaked, with the whole creation, in springtime; in popular beliefs 1 March marks the beginning of spring. Martenitsas were attributed a magic power believed to protect folks from "ill fortune", mostly from diseases and an evil eye. They are taken off on the sight of the first stork and are hung on a blossoming or green tree.

Certain beliefs link the introduction of martenitsas with khan Asparuch and the year 681 when the first Bulgarian Kingdom was founded. According to one of these legends, when the old-time Bulgarians reached the lands beyond the Danube, they were enchanted by the place and decided to settle here. The khan wanted to make an offering to their pagan god Tangra to bless the newly founded kingdom. By tradition, the sacrificial fire had to be lit with a spray of dry dill, but it was to be found nowhere around there. While wondering what to do, Asparoukh saw a falcon perched on his shoulder. The bird had a tuft of dill tied to its leg with a white woollen thread, half tinged red. It was sent by Asparoukh's sister Huba, who, back in their father Kouber's palace, had had a dream about her brother's predicament. During the long flight, however, the falcon's wing got rubbed sore and blood soaked part of the thread. This was how khan Asparoukh got the dill sprig tied with a red and white thread. He lit the fire as prescribed by tradition and attached the thread onto his dress, to bring him health. Since then, it became a 1 March custom for the Bulgarian people to decorate their loved ones with a interlaced white-and-red thread.

Some of the customs observed on March 1 that aim to drive away the evil forces involved making a bonfire and burning the garbage in the yard, after which everybody jumped over the live coals. Fortune-telling was also popular. People used to choose a day between 1 and 22 March and judge about the whole year by the weather on the respective day - if it was sunny, the year was expected to be successful, if it was rainy and the weather was bad - the year was anticipated to be a difficult one.

Outside the Bulgarian ethnic territory martenitsas are to be found only in some regions of Romania and Moldova, i.e. in places where there used to live or still lives a more or less compact Bulgarian population. Insofar as they are not known among the rest of the Slavs, martenitsas are probably a heritage of the Thracians, the ancient native population of modern-day Bulgaria.

If we go back to the Bulgarian epic, we should turn our attention to the figure of the yunak /hero/, most often this is Krali Marko with his gigantic power and the specific reflexion of the Turkish invasion in the Balkans during the 14th century, which gave rise to the balladic characters of the last tzar, most often Ivan Shishman, of the martyrs in the cause of faith, as a rule young girls, of the growing resistence, personified by the Bulgarian haidouks /rebels/.

The musical expression of this cultural system has its regional and general characteristics. We distinguish the Rhodope song and the Thracian song, the Shopp song, the Macedonian song, etc. and, at the same time - the specific Bulgarian two-voice songs, the phenomenon of irregular beats, etc.

As regards story-telling, the Bulgarian folk tale is characterised by its interest in the magic, its commitment with various everyday life events, confronting the rich and the poor, the clever and the fool, as well as by its abundance of candid and natural humour. The main comical character in the Bulgarian tradition is Hitar Petar, who is permanently engaged in a specific contest with Nasreddin Hodja, a well-known character in a much wider, Euro-Asian area. The Bulgarian has a feeling for the legendary, most often associated with an old-testament imagery, and a live sense of historical narrative, conserved in toponymy. The limit of the Bulgarian's historical memory is the 14th century - the time when Bulgaria fell under Turkish rule, and what is more, beyond this verge there come the mythical notions of water bulls, buried treasures etc., which once again remind of the remote roots of the Bulgarian folk culture.

This culture corresponds with Orthodox Christianity. The Bulgarians have their own religious epic in which the main characters are God, Mother of God, Saint George, Saint Peter and Saint Dimitri. In some prosaic texts the Bulgarian Saint Ivan Rilski stands out. Those Bulgarians who adopted Islam are characterized by a kind of crypto-Christianity in addition to a still live authentic Bulgarian folklore tradition with only some changes in the system of names and the structure of rituals.

At the turn of the century, the Bulgarian folklore tradition was given some new impulses, mainly in Macedonia and Thrace, where influenced by the revolutionary reality, a considerable number of songs were created. The same process was seen later in Dobrudzha. The urban culture engendered some new phenomena the most prominent among which was the emergence of the anecdotes related with the character of Bay Ganyo, the urban popular tunes, etc. Today the Bulgarian folk tradition is revived in the context of the specific new phenomena in music, where various styles and forms of genre meet. We now witness a curious intervention by composers and performers, which produces some unexpected results. At the same time, there is a growing presence of performers coming from different ethnic groups, chiefly Gypsies, whose musical art has been exerting its influence on the Bulgarian folklore for a good while. Internationally, the Bulgarian folklore enjoys the recognition of both the general public and the experts.

The studies of Bulgarian folklore began in the mid-19th century. Of central importance in its comprehension is the capital collection of "Bulgarian Folk Songs" compiled by the brothers Dimitar and Kostadin Miladinov and published in 1861. Basically, the reasearch documentation has been published in the unique "Collection of Folklore and Etnography" founded in 1889 by the outstanding Bulgarian scholar and public figure prof. Ivan D. Shishmanov. As many as 65 volumes of this collection have been published since then.

In Bulgaria the major research centre in the field of folklore is the Institute of Folklore at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Lectures in this field are read in all philological departments of the Bulgarian universities, in the higher schools of music, and at the National Academy of Theatre and Cinema Art. The fundamental publications in folklore studies can be found in the Bulgarski folklor journal initiated in 1975.

Easter is a mobile annual festival; the date of its observance is calculated on the lunar calendar. In the year 2001 Orthodox Easter is on 15 April, while in 2005 it is on May 1, and in 2006 - on April 23.
Easter is the most revered festival in the Church calendar of Orthodox Christians. It is celebrated in the course of three days. Typical of this holiday is the dying of eggs. Eggs are dyed on Thursday or Saturday of the Holy Week. The eldest woman in the house has the privilege of dying the eggs. On Maundy Thursday loaves of breadare also made - both ritual and regular, as well as Easter cakes /kozunatzi/. The different kinds of ritual bread are called Lord's bread /“bogovitza”/, Easter ring-shaped buns /kravai/, or Easter rolls /kolatzi/. Making Easter cakes was introduced in Bulgaria as late as the 1920’s, but nowadays it has a very important place in the Bulgarian people's customs.

Dying the eggs:
Each dye is diluted in a separate, new pot. The first egg to dye should be red. It is placed next to the home icon. In the past women used natural pigments - infusions of walnut tree leaves, onion peelings (to dye yellow), blueberries (to dye purple), infusion of fir-cones (to dye beige), boiled beet (to dye red), corn-flower (to dye blue). Eggs are also painted using various techniques.