Bulgarian traditions and customs

What traditions and customs are there in Bulgaria?

Explore the customs and traditions of Bulgaria, a country in Eastern Europe.

Food and economy

Food in daily life

The daily diet is largely based on local, seasonal produce. Bread, an important staple food, is often purchased rather than baked at home. Dairy products are widely consumed, particularly yogurt and white brine cheese.

Home-made lunches and dinners often include soups, salads, stews, grilled meats, or stuffed vegetables, while meals away from home may consist of foods such as bread, cheese, sausage, and vegetables. Banitsa is a popular pastry stuffed with cheese and eggs, pumpkin, rice, spinach or leeks.

For snacks and breakfasts, it is accompanied by a cereal-based drink, boza, or yoghurt-based airan… The most popular alcoholic beverages are rakiya, a powerful fruit-based brandy, and wine. Many people are able to consume fruits and vegetables and make sauerkraut for the winter when fresh produce is not available or affordable.

Regional culinary variation reflects local environmental conditions, for example fish along the sea, vegetables in the plains, and dairy products in mountainous areas.

Some observant Muslims avoid eating pork. In response to post-socialist conditions, consumption of meat and dairy products has decreased relative to less expensive bread.

Typical restaurant offerings are more limited than home cooking, with menus based on salads, soups, grilled meats, and perhaps a meatless offering. Cafes, pubs and sweet shops are popular meeting places for a drink, coffee or snack.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

Some Orthodox Christians observe a Lenten fast before Easter, and observant Muslims avoid eating and drinking during daylight hours during Ramadan.

Within the Islamic tradition, numerous dishes are served and sweets are exchanged in Ramazan (Ramadan) Bairam, and a ram or calf is ritually sacrificed for Kurban Bairam. Kurban means sacrifice and also refers to a boiled meat dish prepared for ceremonial occasions.

Another popular dish of the celebration is lamb or goat roasted with spit. The Christmas Eve table includes numerous, predominantly meatless dishes, including stuffed cabbage leaves, beans, lentils, boiled wheat, dried fruit and nuts. For Christmas or New Years, fortunes in the form of coins, carnelian cherry twigs, or pieces of paper are inserted into banitsa or bread.

Special holiday breads include braided Easter kozunak, which is sometimes decorated with dyed eggs.


In Bulgaria, the gestures to indicate “yes” and “no” are essentially the opposite of those common in most of the rest of Europe. A sideways shake of the head indicates “Yes,” and a small up-and-down movement (head nodding) indicates “No.”

Bulgarians generally pride themselves on their hospitality and neighborliness. An uninvited visitor will first be greeted with a handshake or verbal greeting at the outermost door or portal, and will be invited to enter the private domestic space, depending on the nature of the visit.

At meal times, a guest will be offered food and drink, and at other times a drink (often homemade rakiya); it is impolite not to accept this hospitality.

The obligation to accept a host’s offer extends to situations outside the home, such as when you are invited to eat or drink in a restaurant or other establishment. When visiting someone’s home, it is customary to bring flowers or sweets.

On the street or in other public places, strangers often avoid eye contact. On public transport, young people are expected to give up a seat to an older woman or a parent with a young child. Failure to do so invites public censure from other passengers.

In ethnically mixed areas, it is considered polite to greet a neighbor or acquaintance in their own language.


Religious beliefs

Most Bulgarians belong to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, although there are a small number of Muslims (Pomaks), Protestants and Roman Catholics. Most Turks and many Gypsies are Muslim, while some (especially Gypsies) are Christian.

In Bulgaria, both Orthodox Christianity and Islam incorporate some pagan beliefs and rituals. Christian and Islamic beliefs and practices often coexist among Pomaks and Gypsies. Other religions include Judaism, Armenian Orthodox Christianity, and a variety of Protestant churches and sects.

Orthodox Christianity is enshrined in the Constitution as the traditional religion of Bulgaria, and the Church has a legacy of ties to nationalist groups. State regulation of religious affairs has decreased since the fall of state socialism.

However, political interference remains a factor in religious affairs, and schisms in the Orthodox and Muslim communities in the 1990s (on top of challenges to the legitimacy of leaderships installed under state socialism) were dominated for partisan political interests. The proselytizing of foreign churches and sects is considered a threat to national identity.

Most Bulgarians and Orthodox Muslims are not observant, and many are atheists, partly as a result of the state socialist government’s attempts to discredit the religion. Despite some resurgence of interest in religious observance since the fall of state socialism, religious practices have become markers of cultural identity.

Religious practitioners

The Orthodox Church in Bulgaria is headed by a patriarch, who presides over the Holy Synod (or Church Council), with a hierarchy of regional archbishops, bishops and priests. There are also monasteries where monks and nuns practice a life of religious devotion and scholarship.

The Muslim community is governed by the Supreme Muslim Council under the Chief Mufti (religious judge), with a hierarchy of regional muftis, imams (clerics), and religious teachers.

Rituals and Holy Places

For both Christians and Muslims, the most significant rituals are those related to the passage of life: birth, marriage and death, as well as baptism (for Christians) and circumcision (for Muslims).

Christian holidays include Christmas, Easter, Lent, and All Saints’ Days. Services in Bulgaria are held on Sundays and often daily, and people often visit churches to pray to the saints, burning candles in honor of their loved ones.

Muslim holidays include the month-long fast of Ramadan and the Festival of Sacrifice (Kurban Bairam). The observer attends the mosques on Fridays and can observe the daily prayers.

Churches and especially monasteries are considered sacred, not only for the Orthodox Church but also for the nation, as they played an important role in national emancipation.

Death and the afterlife

Both Orthodox Christians and Muslims believe in life after death. For both, the proper observance of death and related burial rituals is considered crucial for the proper passage of the soul to life after death.

Secular celebrations

During the socialist era efforts were made to replace religious festivals and life cycle rituals with secular rituals; for example, civil ceremonies replaced church weddings, and Grandpa Frost gave gifts on January 1 instead of Grandpa’s Christmas on December 25.

With the fall of communism, government-recognized holidays include Easter and Christmas, and some socialist holidays such as September 9, which marks the beginning of the socialist era, have disappeared.

The New Year is celebrated on January 1 with Christmas foods and traditions designed to bring luck and health in the coming year. Baba Marta (Grandma’s March), on March 1, is a pre-Christian welcome spring, in which people exchange martinitas as good luck charms made of red and white string.

The liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire is celebrated on March 3, International Women’s Day on March 8, Labor Day on May 1, and Bulgarian education and culture on May 24, a day associated with saints. Cyril and Methodius, founders of the Cyrillic alphabet.

Other celebrations -often associated with the agricultural calendar, the Orthodox Christian calendar or both- are the day of the winegrower, on February 14; Saint George’s Day, May 6, in honor of the patron saint of shepherds and the army; and the festivals of the masked kukeri that mark the beginning of spring and the agricultural season (dates vary).

Important life cycle celebrations mark births, high school graduations, dismissals from military service, weddings, and deaths. The latter are commemorated at specific intervals after death (for example, nine days, forty days, six months, one year).

Arts and Humanities

Arts support

During the state socialist period, the arts were financed (and regulated) by the state. State-sponsored folk groups took on not only heritage preservation, but also the task of transforming popular art forms to the level of high culture.

State patronage allowed the arts to flourish, and ideological limits did not necessarily compromise the art. Puppet theater, for example, developed to a high level of excellence.

Since the fall of state socialism in 1989, state funding in Bulgaria has evaporated, and entrepreneurship by individuals and groups has become necessary for survival, where before wages and scheduling largely emanated from the Culture Ministry.

This has been a difficult transition for many practitioners of the arts. The remaining state funding is subject to free competition.


Bulgarian literature begins with the advent of Old Church Slavonic (Old Bulgarian) literacy in the late 9th century AD The earliest writings were religious in nature. In the late 18th century, secular writings began to be written using a more accessible modern vernacular Bulgarian.

Several important writings on the history of the Bulgarian nation date from this time. In the early 19th century, the standard modern language developed through the promotion of literacy in schools.

Literature and journalism flourished around the theme of national emancipation. Ethnologists began to collect and publish folklore, another vehicle for the development of national consciousness.

The Bulgarian Renaissance and early modern literature continue to form the core of literature studies within the Bulgarian educational system. Several Bulgarian authors and poets have achieved international fame.

Graphic arts

Bulgarian graphic arts traditions are rooted in Orthodox Christian icon and fresco painting, and some medieval Bulgarian works are world famous and significant in world art history, notably the frescoes in Boyana Church, near From Sofia.

Folk arts and crafts thrive, and there are distinctive and beautiful traditions in woodcarving, pottery, weaving, and other textile arts.

Performing arts

Bulgaria has a rich palette of music, dance and theater, ranging from folk music and dance to classical and modern opera, jazz and Western-style popular music.

In this regard, it is worth highlighting the variety of popular and popularly influenced music, many of which have become well known in the outside world since the mid-1980s, reaching the status of virtual icons of Bulgarian national culture. Particularly noteworthy are the female vocal music (choral) and the music of the bridal groups.

Traditionally, folk musicians are often gypsies, the music is sensual, and the performances involve a high degree of spontaneity, especially at events such as weddings.

In theater, opera and ballet, the repertoire of Bulgarian artists includes a wide range of international and local productions. Bulgarian cinema had its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s under state patronage, but now it only produces five to ten films a year.

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