Customs and manners

The basis of the Bulgarian customs and rituals is the combination of pagan and Christian world-views.

The most famous customs are:

  • Nestinarstvo – Dancing barefoot in embers and sanctifying icons. According to tradition dancers play on the evening of the Konstantin and Elena holiday. In Bulgaria the custom can be seen in the village of Bulgari in Strandja Mountain. People dance on burning embers elsewhere, but it is more like a tourist attraction.
  • Martenitsi are twisted white and red thread that is tied on the hands for health on the first of March. They are worn till the emergence of a blooming tree or a migratory bird, that is, until the start of spring.
  • Lazarouvane is a custom related to the Christian holiday Lazarus, a Saturday before Palm Sunday. The ritual is performed by a young Girls / around the age of 16, who are unmarried/, calledLazarki who get dressed in traditional Bulgarian costumes and go around the neighboring houses, singing songs and blessing for health, happiness and prosperity.
  • Easter is the most important religious holiday. Easter customs are associated with dyeing eggs and kneading the typical pastry called Kozunak. The date of Easter is determined by the first full moon after the vernal equinox.
  • The “Kukeri” rituals are performed by men dressed as beasts or typical characters (grandmother, grandfather, Kings, etc.), who wear masks and often have bells on their belts. They dance in the streets to scare evil spirits and banish the cold. The international festival of Masquerade Games, named Surva and held in the town of Pernik is the biggest event of this type not only in Bulgaria but on the Balkan Peninsula as well. It promotes variations of ancient Bulgarian customs that are still alive today.
  • Koleduvane is a ritual, related with the most important customs associated with Christmas. Koledari sing for happiness in the family, health and prosperity.
  • Survakane is a custom, carried out on New Year. Sourvakari go from house to house and make wishes for health and fertility.
  • Hamkane is performed on Sirni Zagovezni. According to custom, all members of the family try to capture only their mouths a peeled boiled egg, halva or charcoal, tied on a thread hanging that hangs from the ceiling, which is rotated around the table. It is believed that anyone who can catch and take a bite of the peeled boiled egg, halva or charcoal will be healthy all year long.

Following a general travellers code of respect for the people you meet and places you visit will stand you in good stead. Always ask if you are unsure of any particular cultural curiosities—the locals will be more than happy to tell you.

  • Meeting / greeting – Bulgarian greetings consist of a firm handshake, direct eye contact, and the appropriate verbal greeting for the time of day. Greet each person in a group individually, starting with women and elderly persons. Bulgaria is still a fairly formal society – initial greetings are more formal and reserved. Address people by their titles (if you know them), or with Mr. (Gospodin), or Mrs. (Gospozha) followed by surname. Only friends and family address each other with first names and with a hug or kiss. One should always wait for Bulgarian counterparts to determine when it’s appropriate to go to first name basis.
  • Business cards – Business cards are common but not essential. Business cards are usually exchanged during the first meeting without formal ritual. Have one side of your card printed in Bulgarian.
  • Values – Bulgarians enjoy being out in nature, hiking, walking, or touring in the countryside. Going to the movies is a popular activity; attending the theatre is popular among urban adults. Men usually socialize by fixing things together, telling jokes, or by gathering at clubs. Polite manners and neat appearance in public are important.
  • Presenting / receiving gifts – Gifts are generally opened when received. Typically, gifts are exchanged on Christmas, on birthdays, and when invited to someone’s house. The general rule for gift giving is that it’s more about the thought than value. If taking flowers avoid chrysanthemums, lilies or gladiolas as they’re used at funerals; ensure there are an odd number of stems.
  • Conversation – Hospitality is highly valued. Expect to linger over meals and spend quality time with hosts. Long conversations are the norm. Education is highly valued. Bulgarians take pride in their heritage and culture, which have been preserved despite centuries of foreign domination. They are particularly sensitive about Ottoman rule.
  • Nonverbal gestures – Pointing with the index finger is rude. Don’t slap anyone on the back, even in jest. DON’T chew gum or check handheld electronics while in conversation. Friends, especially girls, often hold hands or walk arm in arm. Gentlemen remove their hats before entering churches. People also remove gloves before shaking hands. People cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing.