Bulgarian folk costume

Bulgaria Before and After Communism

Bulgaria is a country with a long history that dates back to the 7-th century. The official year of its founding is considered 681 AD.

Since that date, there were three countries with that name which western historians call empires but Bulgarian historians refer to as tsarstva (царства) or kingdoms.

Sadly Bulgaria was Germany’s ally during WW2, and Soviet troops entered the country in 1944 and established communist rule.

Before that Bulgaria was a place of rich traditions and lovely culture and architecture.


A girl in the traditional Bulgarian costume
Traditional Bulgarian costume

Traditional Bulgarian society was revolving around the family and family values. It is interesting to know that in the Bulgarian language there are many more words for family relations than in English. For example, we make a distinction between the mother-in-law of the husband tashta (тъща) and the mother-in-law of the wife svekarva (свекърва). There are separate words for every single relative like the brother of your wife or the sister of your husband.

Nowadays these words are losing popularity. People live in cities and rarely know their distant relatives. Friends, colleagues, and neighbors become more important.

There are people that say that a family-centered society is rudimentary and it leads to a demoralizing way of thinking.

Traditionally people from the same family would help each other, they would do favors to their in-laws. When this is related to corruption, it is called shurobadzhanashtina (шуробаджанащина). This word that is very difficult to pronounce could be translated as nepotism.

Bulgaria is a relatively small country (a little more than 6 million) and most people find themselves related to each other somehow, so cases of nepotism are common.

Rural vs. Urban

Before communist rule settled in Bulgaria, the majority of the population was rural, about 80%. They lived in small villages and cultivated their land. Both men and women worked in the fields, but women were responsible for the households. They sewed, knitted, made lace and the famous Bulgarian embroidery among other things.

After 1944, factories were built in the bigger towns, and hastily block of flats were constructed for the people to live and work in the factories.

Same colors, same shapes absolutely everywhere.

If you come to Bulgaria, you will still see the uniform, depressing grey paint on most houses in the smaller settlements. There are very few differences between them, they all look the same.

Despite the favorable climate and fertile soils, being involved in agriculture became something that is not prestigious. Living or coming from a village is often considered a fact one should be ashamed of. The word for peasant – selianin (селянин) is an insult. It means that the person is not cultured and well educated.

Nowadays young people would avoid doing anything practical, like chopping trees, for example, but they would rather spend a lot of time and money on gyms and steroids.


Before and after communist rule, most Bulgarians considered themselves Christian Orthodox. The Bulgarian church was founded in the 9th century under the rule of Tsar Boris I.

Going to church was forbidden by the communists, and lots of shrines were destroyed. Now the tradition is revived and people attend religious ceremonies, especially on holidays.

Protestantism, Buddhism, and other religions are gaining popularity. Lots of people go to yoga lessons and get involved in Eastern cultures and philosophies somehow.


Teenagers belonging to a subculture
Members of a subculture

During communism boys weren’t allowed to have long hair, girls to wear short skirts, and so on. Rock music albums were nowhere to be found in shops and were distributed illegally.

After the fall of it, everything changed and subcultures flourished like mushrooms after rain. One of the most popular is that of the hard-rock listeners. There are so many of them in Bulgaria. They wear black T-shirts with the name of bands like Judas Priest and Metallica on them and khaki trousers. Guys have long hair, sometimes beards.

Another very numerous subculture is that of the people who listen to chalga (чалга). This is a style of music that has Oriental motifs and lyrics in Bulgarian. The videos are usually overtly sexual and messages very plain. Often the lyrics are about sex and alcohol.

Chalga divides Bulgarian society in two – you either love it or hate it. The word is often used as a synonym of kitsch by intellectuals. Those who like this style of music call it pop-folk.

Bulgarian society is evolving under the influence of inner and outer factors.

Here are some traditions that weren’t eradicated completely by the communists and are still practiced. In them, pagan and Christian rituals are intertwined.


Bulgarian kukeri

Kukeri is a pagan ritual, reminding a carnival that is held during some Christian holidays. It is popular in various parts of the Balkan Peninsula, but most of all in Serbia and the western parts of Bulgaria.

Usually, men are dressed like beasts or different characters like an old woman, an old man, a king, or a tax collector. They always wear masks on their heads, bells on their belts, and fur coats.

The kukeri dance in the streets to scare away the cold and the evil spirits and also to beg for fertility and good luck.

The men who participate usually are not married.

Nestinarstvo or Anastenaria

This is a ritual performed in Southern Bulgaria and parts of Greece. The people who participate in it walk barefoot on burning charcoals. They are holding icons, dance on the fire unharmed, and get into an ecstatic state.

Though similar rituals are practiced in other countries, this celebration is so unique that it is a part of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

Some historians trace its origins to the Middle Ages, others to Ancient times and the cults of Dionysus. Nowadays it is a part of the festivities for Saint Constantine and Saint Helena holiday.


Wearing martenitsas is a Bulgarian tradition
Martenitsa on a tree

On March 1, people adorn themselves with objects made with red and white threads. This is a festivity for celebrating the coming of spring.

Red symbolizes blood and life, white – purity and happiness.

Martenitsas are given to people you care about. They are worn until one sees the first returned stork and should be tied to a tree.

Bulgarian culture is a blend of new and old, there were many influences on it, still, it is distinct and fascinating.








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