It is an ancient custom in Bulgaria for family-members and friends to exchange Martenitsas every year on March 1st. The Martenitsa is a piece of adornment made of white and red yarn and it is considered a symbol of health, happiness and longevity.
When someone gives you a Martenitsa you should wear it either on your clothes or on your hand until you see a stork or a tree in blossom for the first time in the season. After that you can tie it on a blossoming branch of a tree or put it under a stone.
This holiday is called Baba Marta (Grandma Marta) and it is related to welcoming the approaching spring. According to one of the many legends, this tradition dates back to the 7th century and it is related to the founding of the Bulgarian state in 681 AD.
Perhaps the most spectacular and ancient manifestation of Bulgarian folk culture are the Kukeri processions. The kukeri are costumed men who seek to scare away evil spirits and bring good harvest and health to the community. The costumes, made of animal furs and fleeces, cover the whole of the body. The ritual consists of dancing, jumping and shouting in an attempt to banish all evil from the village.
This festival occurs in villages across Bulgaria seven weeks before Easter and illustrates the Bulgarian ancient tradition of meeting the spring with a “Kukeri” masquerade. The procession stops at every village home, where the kukeri men are provided with homemade food and drink
Another ancient Bulgarian custom is called Nestinarstvo, or firedancing, in which people dance barefoot on glowing embers (live coals). By tradition, the nestinari (fire dancers) dance into the fire in the night of the feast day of Saints Konstantin and Helena (3 and 4 June, according to the old style). Amazingly, they never get hurt or burn their feet. The nestinari prepare for their dance by spending hours locked in a chapel, venerating the icons of the two saints while listening to the beating of drums and the music of gaidas (Bulgarian bagpipes), after which they often fall into trance.
In Bulgaria the ritual is preserved in its authentic form only in the Mount Strandzha region in South-East Bulgaria.