If you’re thinking of traveling to Bulgaria over the coming months, or if you already live here and are looking for distractions from the cold weather, head to any of these winter festivals in Bulgaria and treat yourselves to experiences of cultural, musical and traditional festival life…minus the tent!
1. Surva International Festival of Masquerade Games – Pernik – 26th to 28th Jan
Taking place on the last weekend of January, this Bulgarian Kukeri pagan festival of Thracian origin is a mixture of colourful costumes, traditional dancing and the warding off of evil spirits. Participants from all regions of Bulgaria along with other partakers from the Balkans, join together to celebrate the imminent arrival of Spring and to wish good fortune for the year’s harvest, health and happiness. In a deeply-inspired carnival atmosphere, men dressed in elaborate costumes with huge cow bells jangling and wearing ceremonial masks, take to the streets of Pernik in a vivid act of antique ritualism.
2. Sveti Trifun Den – 14th Feb
February 14th is not just dedicated to St Valentine but also to Sveti Trifon, the patron saint of wine, and is a celebration for all wine lovers throughout the Balkans hailing it as a day to bless the new grape growing season. Orthodox Christian in its origins, it’s an age-old ritual of the connection between the land and the spirits to wish a fruitful wine harvest of the coming year. Three sprigs are cut from different vines and are made into a wreath which is then worn before watering the base with wine (and sometimes holy water and ash) to awaken the land after a long winter. If you join in, be prepared to spend the rest of the day with friendly locals drinking homemade wine or rakia, and eating your way through home-cooked traditional food…in abundance!
3. Baba Marta Den – 1st March
On the 1st March, the streets of Bulgaria are filled with people buying, selling and giving martenitsi – red and white dolls, tassels and friendship bracelets. The day harks back to pagan times to symbolise the coming of spring and the end of winter. Baba Marta, or Grandmother March, is a renowned to have severe mood swings which relate with the changeable weather in March. When she is happy, the sun will shine and spring is imminent; however, if she is grumpy, the weather will transform to wind and possibly late snow. Wearing a martenitsa is thought to keep her happy, ward off evil spirits, to bring you luck and is now big business in Bulgaria. The festivities take place throughout Bulgaria and are free to join in.
4. Sofia International Film Festival – 8-18-29 March
For a programme of events and ticket prices check out their website and given that this is their 22nd year of showcasing the best of Bulgarian and international films to the rest of the world, it’s sure preview films for all tastes. If you’re a lover of films, book your tickets for distinguished feature films and documentaries in advance.
5. Nestiya International Arts Festivals
These traditional folklore events take place every weekend from the end of January right through to the beginning of March and take place in different venues across the country which include Pamporovo, Velingrad, Borovets and Bansko. You can see music, dancing and vocal folklore groups from all over the world and share their folklore traditions to promote the identity of their country.