Bulgaria`s history goes back millennia in time. The two most interesting traditions, connected to our past as the Thracians, are not only the tales about a nation which never dies. They represent the Bulgarian spirit and perseverance through time. Those traditions are still alive, and they are a part of the reasons behind the endurance of the country for many years. Here, I present you two ancient customs that Bulgarians perform - one is swimming in the ice-cold water during Epiphany in January, and the other one is walking on fire in June.
This traditional ritual of swimming in the ice-cold water is performed on a very special day – the 6th of January (the St. Jordan day) or as it is also known in the Christian countries – Epiphany day. On this day, Jesus Christ was baptized – 12 days after his birth. The ritual is only performed by men and takes place in every city, town or village, where there is a water basin, and on the seaside where the people get into the sea in order to perform it. The biggest celebration on this day is in the town of Kalofer. The town priest brings a sanctified cross and throws it in the river. The water in the river is almost always either frozen or very cold. The participants in the ritual wear national folklore costumes. As soon as the cross disappears under the water surface, the men get into the river, while singing and cheering. The goal is to find the cross. Whoever finds it, will be healthy throughout the year. The whole process does not last long, but after the cross is found, each one of the thousands in the audience is welcome to get into the ice-cold water for health and good luck.
The second ritual of walking on fire also dates back far in time. It is performed on a very special day – on the 3rd of June, which is the day of St. Constantine and St. Elena. The performers are men and women, and they also wear Bulgarian folklore clothing while performing the ritual. They gather in a village called Bulgari to do it. A big fire is lit up and kept burning throughout the day. In the evening, the fire is put out, and now is time for the performers to step in. Literally. They walk on the burning coals, barefoot. They dance and talk or sing with holy objects in their hands – an icon, a piece of cloth, an icon-lamp. The words are specially chosen, they have a sacred, ancient meaning. The performers fall into a trance under the sound of Bulgarian folklore music. They walk fast with very small steps – in this way they don`t feel the burning ground under their bare skin. According to Bulgarian sayings, the ritual goes back to the time when the Thracian tribes inhabited those areas. This ritual performance is a direct tribute to the Sun as a symbol of the new life.
Bulgarians may have their ups and downs as a nation, and may not be the strongest one, but those two rituals are proof that as long as we keep traditions such as those alive, the nation will never die. And those two Bulgarian ancient customs are kept alive!
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