Romanian and Bulgarian spring traditions. One more reason to visit the Balkans in spring!
One of the best seasons to visit Balkan countries is, for sure, Spring! The beginning of the season is still quite cold. But, you can easily recognize Winter's goodbyes by simply looking around and admiring the snowdrops.
Romania and Bulgaria are well known for their beautiful landscapes during this time, but also for their Spring traditions that make them unique in the wide world. Some of these traditions are similar between the two countries, some are exactly the same, and some are nothing alike. Still, if one thing is sure, it's the joy these customs bring to the people - both locals and visitors!
Marțisor / Baba Marta
The first day of Spring starts with a beautiful tradition in both Romania and Bulgaria! We're talking about the celebration of "Mărțisor" or "Baba Marta" - an old cultural legacy related to cold and warm weather intertwining. What exactly is this "Mărțisor"? Well, it can be perceived as a lucky charm, and it usually looks like a bow made with red and white strings woven together. The red color symbolizes life and is associated with women's passion. In contrast, the white thread is associated with victory, snow, and the wisdom of men.
In Romania, this bow is believed to bring protection against evil spirits and evoke nature being brought back to life. It can be attached to a flower, a piece of jewelry, or simply to a wooden or metallic decoration such as a heart, a horseshoe, or a four-leaf clover. In Bulgaria, Martenitsa is a white and red yarn worn around the wrist like a traditional bracelet (not pinned to the chest like in Romania). One wears it until one sees the first stork, at which point the Martenitsa is hung on a tree branch. This trinket is an old custom, and its bearer is believed to be strong, healthy, and lucky for the rest of the year!
8th of March - Women's DAY
On this day, it is widespread to see all men on the streets carrying gifts and flowers! These gifts are for all precious women in their lives, especially mothers. The 8th of March marks a celebration day for them, when they are spoiled and pampered. So if you're a woman passing through Romania or Bulgaria on this day, be prepared to receive tulips, cards, and best wishes!
The day of the Holy Forty Martyrs
This Holiday is a big one for both countries, but each has a different approach. In Romania, on this day, it is said that the gates of heaven open up. You welcome the spirits of all martyrs with fresh "mucenici" - a special dish similar to bagels. They are made in the shape of an "8", boiled or baked, seasoned with honey, cinnamon, and walnuts.
After the preparation, the goodies are taken to a church, blessed, and then shared with family and friends. In Bulgaria, it is believed that God drives forty hot spikes into the soil on this day, and the sun turns to summer. It is time to sow and plant. Every household should cook 40 stuffed peppers, and everyone should try to eat 40 different things on this day to protect against evil and poor harvest.
Ziua Cucilor / Kukeri Festival
Another holiday widely celebrated in Balkan countries is "Ziua Cucilor" or "Kukeri Festival," which means "the day of the Cuckoo Birds." This open-air festival has its roots in the communist regime. It has been kept in Bulgaria, but in Romania, it's been only a few years since the tradition was reborn, and it can only be seen in some southern counties.
It is mainly a parade in which anyone can participate as long as they wear a traditional oversized mask, bells, and other colorful decorations. The masked people (the cuckoos) dance in the gardens of the locals or on the streets while gently slapping people without masks on the shoulder as a gesture to drive away any evil spirits and clean them of all illness.
Floriile / Tsvetnitsa
Precisely one week before Easter, Romania and Bulgaria celebrate "The Flowers' Day." (Palm Sunday) On this Sunday, people start the morning by attending church with their families. They sing and remember the days when Jesus entered Jerusalem. When they come home, they take from the church some willow twigs.
These twigs are reminiscent of the fennel and olive branches that the ancient people had used to welcome Jesus in their town as the son of God. People bring these blessed twigs into their houses and decorate the gates, doors, and windows with them as a sign of good faith and a recognizable way of saying that they welcome The Messiah into their homes and hearts.
This special day is also known for celebrating people named after flowers! So if you have a flower's name like Rose, Jasmin, or Lily and you're visiting Romania or Bulgaria on this day, you will surely receive a "Happy Name Day" from the locals!
This is one of the most significant holidays in Balkan countries. Both Romania and Bulgaria are Orthodox countries. Easter here is not about the famous bunny but more of a holy time for which people prepare one week ahead. Before Easter, there is the Holy Week: seven days for people in Romania and Bulgaria to clean their homes, cook traditional dishes, and decorate and paint the Easter Eggs red (a symbol for the blood of Christ).
Easter starts with the Holy Midnight Mass, where people hear the priest shouting three times: "Hristos a Înviat!" (RO) / "Christos Voskrese" (BG), which means "Christ has risen" to which the congregation replies "Adevarat a Înviat" (RO) / "Voistinu Voskrese" (BG) that translates to "Indeed He has risen!". After this spiritual event, people return to their homes with a lit candle they got from the church and eat the festive dinner (yes, after Midnight). This is the first time they gather around the table, and each member selects an egg for the "egg fight."
It is not as crazy as it sounds. It is just a harmless old tradition that requires the egg to be knocked together with the others to find the strongest. In the next 3 days, no work or housework is allowed. People tend to spend their time with family, visit friends, relax and eat a lot of traditional meat, "cozonac" / "kozunak" (which is a sweet braided bread with nuts and cacao), painted eggs, wine, and other traditional sweets like "pască" (a traditional dish made with sweet cheese and raisins).
If there is one thing to admire the most about this Holiday, it must surely be the art of decorating eggs. In some parts, mainly in the rural regions, artisans have transformed Easter eggs into unique pieces of art despite the long and meticulous process. The colors and symbols used to decorate them vary according to the region. Still, some colors are constantly used: like red (love), black (eternity), yellow (youth and rich crops), green (nature), and blue (health and sunny skies).
These eggs can be found in souvenir shops across Romania and Bulgaria. They are worth buying, but remember to ask the vendor for more details about their provenance to ensure you're buying the real deal! Does Spring in the Balkans sound fun to you? Book a tour to Bulgaria and Romania and see for yourself! 🙂
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