The so-called Bulgars are a seminomadic people who during the 2nd century migrated from Central Asia into the North Caucasian steppe and in the late 7th century permanently settled in the Balkans. The group of Bulgarians and the Slavic tribes which lived there together formed the First Bulgarian Empire in 681. The indigenous Thracian and Daco-Getic population, who had lived on the territory of modern Bulgaria before the Slavic invasion, also participated in the formation of the Bulgarian ethnos.
Medieval Bulgaria was the most important cultural centre of the Slavic people at the end of the 9th and throughout the 10th century. The two literary schools of Preslav and Ohrid developed a rich literary and cultural activity with authors of the rank of Constantine of Preslav, John Exarch, Chernorizets Hrabar, Clement and Naum of Ohrid. In the first half of the 10th century, the Cyrillic alphabet was devised in the Preslav Literary School based on the Glagolitic and the Greek alphabets. Modern versions of the alphabet are now used to write five more Slavic languages such as Belarusian, Macedonian, Russian, Serbian and Ukrainian as well as Mongolian and some other 60 languages.
Most Bulgarians are members of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church founded in 870 AD .The Bulgarian Orthodox Church is the independent national church of Bulgaria like the other national branches of Eastern Orthodoxy and is considered an inseparable element of Bulgarian national consciousness.
Although, most of the Bulgarians are orthodox Christians, the tradition to celebrate “Baba Marta” is pagan. It dates back since the First Bulgarian Kingdom when Bulgaria was still a pagan country.
The different ethnoses in modern Bulgaria are the reason why the Bulgarians are so tolerant and respectful towards the other traditions and cultures.
The month of March according to the Bulgarian folklore marks the beginning of springtime. Therefore, the first day of March is a traditional holiday associated with sending off the winter and welcoming the spring.
On March 1. everyone in Bulgaria says wishes for health, love and a good harvest.This is the time when Bulgarians exchange amulets - the so-called bulgarian "Martenitsa" and tell each other "Chestita Baba Marta" (Happy Granny March).
On the first of March and the first few days after, Bulgarians give to one another white and red tassels or small wool dolls called "Pizho and Penda", or "Martenitsa". Additionally, in the Bulgarian folklore the name Mart is related to a grumpy old lady whose mood shifts very rapidly. Her name is Grandma Marta, in Bulgarian — Baba Marta.
Martenitsa is given to loved ones, friends, and those people whom one feels close to. They are worn on clothing, or around the wrist or neck, until the person wearing it sees a stork or swallow returning from migration. They then remove the Martenitsa and hangs it on a blossoming tree.
The ritual of finally taking off the martenitsa may be different in the different parts of Bulgaria. Some people would tie their martenitsa on a branch of a fruit tree, thus giving this tree the health and luck, which the person wearing the martenitsa has enjoyed while having it. Others would put the martenitsa under a stone with the idea that the kind of the creature (usually an insect) closest to the token the next day will determine the person's health for the rest of the year.
The martenitsa is also a stylized symbol of Mother Nature. At that early-spring/late-winter time of the year, Nature seems full of hopes and expectations. The white symbolizes the purity of the melting white snow and the red symbolizes the setting of the sun which becomes more and more intense as spring progresses. These two natural resources are prerequisites for life. They are also associated with the male and female beginnings.
This is only one of the many legends, and perhaps not even the best known one, attempting to offer an explanation of how the tradition of creating and wearing martenitsa arose.
Khan Kubrat's five sons went hunting accompanied by their sister Huba. When they reached the River Danube they saw a silver stag. Mesmerized, the men did not dare to shoot at it. The stag crossed over to the opposite bank of the river showing them that there was a ford.
A bird flew to them bringing bad tidings. Their father, the founder of Old Great Bulgaria was on his deathbed. In his last hours Kubrat wanted to tell his offspring—Bayan, Kotrag, Asparukh, Kuber and Altsek—not to break the link between the different Bulgarian tribes. His sons vowed to defend Bulgaria.
Soon after their father’s death, the Khazars invaded their lands. The Khazar's Khan Ashina succeeded in conquering the capital Phanagoria. Huba, Kubrat's daughter, was taken prisoner by Ashina.
Her brothers kept their vows in different ways. Bayan stayed with his sister and recognized the supremacy of the Khazars. Kotrag went northto the River Volga, while Asparukh, Kuber and Altsek went south to search for a land without oppressors.
The brothers who left secretly arranged with Huba and Bayan to send word by a golden thread tied to the leg of a bird if they were able to find a free land. One day a falcon sent by Asparukh flew into Huba's room and she and Bayan quickly made plans to escape. Just as they were looking for a place to cross the Danube River, Khazar pursuers spotted them and rushed toward them. Trying to find a ford, Huba let the falcon free. She tied a white thread to its leg and handed it to her brother.
Just as the bird was about to take off, an enemy arrow pierced Bayan and his blood stained the white thread.
While both Bayan and Huba managed to reach the land Asparukh had found that they were mortally wounded. Asparukh rushed to meet his dying brother and sister but could not do anything to save them. After their death he tore the pieces of white-and-red stained thread and adorned his soldiers with them.
If the Martenitsa divides the Bulgarian nation from the other nations, the traditional holiday – Easter brings them closer to the other countries in Europe.
Easter in Bulgaria (‘Velikden’) is based on the main Christian dogma – the faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter in Bulgaria is celebrated three days in a row. Great Friday is a time for spiritual purifying and is a day in which no one works in Bulgaria. From this day till the noon of the Saturday of Passion people don’t eat anything. On Saturday women cookspecial bulgarian ritual bread. This ritual bread is of different types. Some are round, elipse-shaped or of separated pieces in a plait. They are called kozunaci.
The bright red colored egg is the symbol of Easter (or Pascha) for the Orthodox Christians all over the world. The eggs are colored on Holy Thursday after the Divine Liturgy. The Easter breads are a worldwide Orthodox tradition as well. They are big and small and decorated. The bread is called "kolache" or "kozunak". One of these Easter breads is specially decorated with one or more (but an odd number) of red eggs which are incrustated into it. This bread is taken to church on Saturday evening. Then are the services of Great and Holy Pascha (Velikden). After the service the clergy blesses the breads and eggs brought by the people and they take them home. Such breads and eggs are presented to the parents, and also to other relatives, friends, etc.
There is a ritual of cracking the eggs before the Easter lunch. Each person selects their egg. Then people take turns tapping their egg against the eggs of the others, and the person who ends up with the last unbroken egg is believed to have a year of good luck.
The traditional Orthodox Paschal greeting is: "Christ is Risen!" The answer is: "Indeed He is Risen". This is the greeting during 40 days after Pascha. Also, these greetings are exchanged during the tapping of the eggs, mentioned above.
As you can see the Bulgarian Easter traditions are a variant of Orthodox Easter traditions.
The horo or chain dance (derived from Greek xopos) holds a central place in the sociocultural activities of rural Bulgaria. The horo can be danced in a closed or open circle formation, or in a straight or "crooked" line. The best dancers are usually located at each end of the line. Both of them guide the group through exciting patterns while waving a handkerchief in their free hand.