Enhancing social and economic activity of third country immigrants from the territory of South East Reagion in Bulgaria
BG EIF 2011/01-02.01
The project is funded by The European Fund for the Integration of third-country nationals financed by the European Union

Bulgaria has rich and colorful folklore tradition. This tradition represents a combination of fairy tales and legends, adages and proverbs, dances and songs, and rituals. A small part of this folklore is represented, alongside with some region-specific beliefs.
The special ritual called Kukeri (Mummer's) games takes place at different times in different parts of Bulgaria but usually in the months of January and February. The Kukeri games are performed only by men. Dressed in scary costumes of monsters under the roar of the bells hanging from their belts, the mummers dance their heavy dance in streets and squares with the belief that it will scare the winter and drive away evil spirits, and make room for spring and good. Their costumes are extremely heavy, often with a wooden structure, covered with genuine animal fur and decorated with colorful woolen threads and paper. A mummer’s costume usually weighs over 50 kg, not counting the bells. Mummers make their own costumes and sometimes it takes years of collecting the necessary accessories – animal skins, horns, bells, colorful decorations, etc. The Bulgarians from the rural areas still keep alive this ancient, millennia old incantatory tradition. And it is not surprising that we have applied to have the Bulgarian kukeri tradition entered in UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage List. 
In the different parts of Bulgaria the kukeri games differ both in content and in the type of costumes that are worn. There is a great variety of both the characters that are represented by the mummers, and the comic domestic scenes that are acted out. What they have in common is their mission – to chase away evil spirits and to make room for spring. These games are most powerful and exciting in Southeastern Bulgaria – Burgas, Yambol, Sliven and Eastern Thrace. The village of Glushnik in Sliven District is one of the places where this tradition has been well preserved. Early in the morning mummers get together at the house of their leader, who is called a king. He has his "bride" or "grandmother", a role that must be played by a burly man. This is the most comic figure in an otherwise scary mummer's entourage. With a deafening rattling of bells the group of mummers starts visiting people’s houses.
The masquerade festival "Kukerlandia", held annually in Yambol at the end of February, is a synthesis of ancient traditions, customs, sounds, colors, and light. It is hard to describe the excitement of the celebration of spring soul cleansing. Monsters and other creatures accompanied by the rattle of their bells perform rituals to chase away ghosts and evil. Masquerade groups from Bulgaria and abroad take part in the festival. Its aim is to demonstrate, popularize, promote and preserve our folk traditions.
The Festival of Roses is a lovely festival held every year in the Rose Valley near the town of Kazanluk (at the foot of the Balkan Range) on the first weekend of June. The festival is a pageant of beauty in the unique Rose Valley. In the run-up of the event, a Queen Rose beauty contest is held in several rounds. Artists, actors, writers, singers and many other guests flock to Kazanluk at the beginning of June. 
Young boys and girls wearing folk costumes welcome the guests, decorate them with garlands of rose petals, and treat them to “banitza” (cheese pie), rose jam and rose liqueur.
Of particular interest to the tourists is the rose-picking in the rose plantations in the villages and around Kazanlak, which takes place on the first Sunday of June. The program includes traditional folk performances, and after that the tourists have the opportunity to try their hand at picking the petals of oleaginous roses.
The festival activities also include demonstrations of boiling rose petals and distillation of products from the roses in the authentic Revival atmosphere of the ethnographic complex, tasting of rose jam and rose liqueur, workshops, exhibitions, concerts, performances, music and dance performances. The annual Rose Festival welcomes thousands of foreign tourists. The largest number of tourists are from Asia – Japan, South Korea, China (Hong Kong, Shanghai). 
Bulgaria is one of the biggest manufacturers of rose oil in the world. Rose oil is 3 times more expensive than gold. One kilogram of rose oil is extracted from 3000 kg of rose blossoms. Every flower is picked by hand and preserved carefully for distillation. More than 2000 people take part in rose picking every year. The Bulgarian oleaginous rose yields 70 percent of the world's attar of roses used by every perfume company as an essential component of its products. The story goes that in the Thracian provinces of the Roman Empire, the Thracians grew 12 varieties of roses, one of them known as the "Thracian Rose". In 1270, during the crusades, Count de Gruye brought the Damascus rose (Rosa damascena) from Syria to the valley of Kazanlak where conditions proved excellent. Experts claim that Bulgarian roses and rose oil owe their unique properties to the local climate and the fertile soil. The temperatures in February, when the roses bud, are ideal. The blossoms are picked in May and June, when the humidity of the air is very high. 
Nestinarstvo (fire dancing) is one of the most interesting centuries old rituals, which has been preserved only in Bulgaria. The so-called "walking barefooted on live coals" started before Christ, as a pagan ritual, performed by the ancient Thracians. Dancing on the embers in a trance, they saw the coming summer in, praising the name of the Sun God, who brought with him the fire and they asked him to give them health and fertility to the land throughout the year. The Fire dancing ritual was common in almost the whole of Southeastern Thrace, including Strandja Mountain (the villages of Balgari, Resovo, Brodilovo etc.).
After the Christianization of Bulgaria and the adoption of Christianity as the only official religion, the ritual died out because it was forbidden by the church as a heresy. Centuries passed by and the people who could walk on embers without burning their feet were forgotten and lived only in the myths and legends. After Bulgaria was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, the population of Bulgaria was forced to convert to Islam, villages and towns were burnt down, and later disappeared. Such was the fate of the Bulgarian village of Bulgari in Strandja Mountain. After the Turks invaded and plundered Balgari, they set fire to it. An elderly woman saw that not only the houses but also the chapel was burning. With a last-ditch effort she entered the chapel barefooted, grabbed the only surviving icon of St. Constantine and St. Helena and took it out walking as if in a trance on the live coals. To the surprise of those who saw her there was no sign of burning on her.
Since then nestinarstvo has been revived. The patrons and guardians of fire dancers are believed to be St. Constantine and St. Helena. This is why the ritual is performed mainly on 21st and 22nd May which are the days of these two saints. It is believed that the fire that is made chases away evil spirits, disease and misery, purifies and absolves the sins of those present at the ritual, making them stronger and more calmer.
Fire dancers walk on live coals carrying sick people to help them get better, and children and young people to give them long life. It is believed that fire dancing is a charisma and not a talent one is born with. Dancers believe that the charisma itself finds the elect and worthy person. They say, "To be able to dance on live coals, you should really want it. And not to be burned you should be chosen and protected by St. Constantine and St. Helena.” 
In 2009, the nestinarstvo was officially entered in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It is the second Bulgarian masterpiece after "Bistrishkite grandmothers" (2005) on the Representative List.


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