The winter holiday season in Bulgaria is far from over. Christmas and New Year’s Eve may have passed but in Bulgaria, the festivities are just beginning. January, February and March are packed with name day (or saint’s day) celebrations and other folklore traditions. Name days such as Jordanovden (Jordan’s Day) or Todorovden (Theodore’s Day) often have different traditions associated with them and are highly popular celebrations. In fact, celebrating your name day is so important that Bulgarians often celebrate the same name day twice. The reason is that most Western countries switched to the Gregorian calendar that “jumped” 13 days ahead in the 16th century. However, the Eastern Orthodox churches never accepted the Gregorian calendar and instead issued a revised Julian calendar which will be aligned with the Gregorian one until 2800. The revised Julian calendar was adopted in Bulgaria only in 1968 and this is the reason why many people still celebrate name days on the day per the old calendar or, to avoid any confusion, on both dates – the old and new date.

The concentration of holidays in the winter months has a certain practicality too. Bulgaria used to be a primarily agricultural country and there was not that much to do in the winter when the fields were covered in snow. The numerous name days and holidays provided for communal support and sharing of resources during the usually cold winter.

Here are six awesome Bulgarian winter traditions:

1. Jordanovden

Jordanovden in Kalofer Bulgaria

Jordanovden (Epiphany) is celebrated on January 6th (new style) or January 19th (old style). On Jordanovden, Eastern Orthodox celebrate the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan river. A religious event that was considered a sign of the revelation of God to the world in the form of his human son – Jesus Christ. Hence, the tradition on Jordanovden is connected to water. On the morning of Jordanovden, a ritual is performed in a river or a larger body of water. A priest throws a cross in the river and unmarried men race into the ice cold water to grab the cross and carry it out of the water. It is said that whoever reaches the cross first will get married that year.

Jordanovden celebrations in the mountainous town of Kalofer are the most famous ones in Bulgaria. Apart from racing to the cross, all men (no matter if you are married or not) dance the so-called male ice horo in the waters of the ice cold Biala reka (White river). How do people brave and resist the ice cold water of the river? With the help of lots of Bulgarian wine and rakia, of course.

2. Petlyovden (Rooster Day)

Roosters Day

Petlyovden (a.k.a Rooster Day because petel means “rooster” in Bulgarian) is more widely celebrated on its old style date – February 2 as opposed to the new style date – January 20. Rooster Day is also referred to as Men’s Day.

The reason why this day is called both Rooster Day and Men’s Day dates to the times of the Ottoman Empire. Young Bulgarian boys were taken away from their families to be trained as soldiers in the Ottoman army. This practice became known as the blood tax. The blood tax was collected in the beginning weeks of each year.

The legend goes that a mother of two boys who were to be taken by the Ottomans told the Ottoman authorities that she would rather kill her sons than see them become soldiers in the Ottoman army. The night before the Ottoman authorities were supposed to collect the blood tax, the mother hid her boys in the nearby forest. She returned to her house and slayed two roosters spraying their blood all over her front door. On the next day, when the Turkish authorities came to take the young boys of the village, they saw the blood all over the front door and believed that the mother really had killed her own sons. The Ottomans were so terrified by this act that they did not collect the blood tax from the village sparing all the young boys. Therefore, the tradition on this day is to enjoy a meal of rooster.

3. Trifon Zarezan

Trifon Zarezan

Trifon Zarezan (a.k.a. Wine Day) is widely celebrated across Bulgaria. It is considered the Day of Wine as St. Trifon Zarezan is the patron of winemakers. According to the tradition, the vines are pruned on Trifon Zarezan’s day. Most winemakers celebrate Trifon Zarezan on the old style date – February 14 as opposed to the new style one – February 1.

The legend goes that Trifon Zarezan (meaning Trifon the Pruned One) was pruning his vines when the pregnant Virgin Mary passed by. Trifon made fun of her being pregnant without having a husband and she cursed him. Soon after the curse, Trifon cut his nose with the pruning shears and became known as Trifon the Pruned One. You can read more about the legend of Trifon Zarezan here.

Wineries around Bulgaria organize festivals on Trifon Zarezan’s day which start with ritual pruning of the vines and continue with celebrations at the wineries where copious amounts of wine are consumed.

4. Baba Marta (Grandma Marta)


Baba Marta (a.k.a Grandma Marta) is a mythical person in Bulgarian and other Balkan countries’ folklore. The name of Baba Marta is connected to the month of March. Baba Marta is the sister of Golyam Sechko (the month of January) and Malyk Sechko (the month of February). Baba Marta is at times nice and kind and at times angry and evil. Some say her meanness was caused by her younger brothers drinking all her wine. This is why the weather in March is considered to be unpredictable. As unpredictable as Baba Marta’s temper.

Nevertheless, the image of Baba Marta is usually connected with the coming of spring and with the martenitsi tradition. If you visit Bulgaria in the beginning of March, don’t be surprised to see people meeting on the streets and tying red and white bracelets made of red and white yarn to each other’s wrists, and wishing each other to be healthy and happy during the year. The red and white thread bracelets and ornaments are called martenitsi. When you receive a martenitsa, you have to make a wish. You remove the martenitsa from your wrist when you see a stork or a tree in bloom. The martenitsa is then tied to a tree in bloom, and your wish will come true. The giving of martenitsi is a pagan tradition, and symbolizes the interplay between life on Earth (the red color) and eternity (the white color).

5. Todorovden


Todorovden (St. Theodore’s Day) is celebrated on the first Saturday of the Easter fasting period. This is why the date of Todorovden changes every year according to when Easter is. Usually, Todorovden falls in the months of February or March; Todorovden is on March 4 in 2017.

Todorovden in Bulgaria is also called Horse Easter because on this day Bulgarians pay tribute to the horse. The horse was the most important animal according to the Bulgars who are one of the founders of the Bulgarian state. The Bulgars were skillful horseback riders and learned to ride from an early age. There are ritual horse races in Bulgaria on Todorovden. At sunrise, the men groom the horses and put ornaments on their manes before they are taken to the racing grounds. The women make ritual bread from which they also give to the horses. The horse and the rider who win the race receive awards and then go around all the houses in the village/town where they are congratulated, and offered food and drinks (water for the horse).

6. Kukeri


The Kukeri tradition is an ancient and mystical pagan tradition. The folkloric ritual involves men dressing in colorful handmade costumes of fur, ribbons, feathers, beads, bells and elaborate monster-like face masks denoting beasts, birds or other animals. The Kukeri-men dance through the village or town to dispel evil spirits, and bless the village with health, happiness and a good harvest. The ritualistic dances are said to date back to ancient Thracian times. Throughout Bulgarian villages and towns, the Kukeri rituals are performed between Christmas and Easter. The largest single Kukeri event – Surva: The International Festival of the Masquerade Games – is held every year in the town of Pernik not too far from Sofia towards the end of January.

Winter in Bulgaria is packed with holidays that mix Christian and pagan traditions. This makes winter a perfect time to visit Bulgaria if you want to experience some of the local traditions and rituals. So, pack your warm clothes and come explore Bulgaria in winter!