Between Romania and Turkey, along the Black Sea, there is a land of festive, historic culture and intriguing variety in customs, peoples and geography. This is Bulgaria, a Balkan country that has witnessed much change and has emerged with a unique mixture of traditions and perspectives.
In the late 7th century, the Bulgars, a Central Asian Turkic tribe, merged with local Slavic inhabitants to form the first Bulgarian state. In succeeding centuries, Bulgaria struggled with the Byzantine Empire to assert its place in the Balkans, but by the end of the 14th century, the country was overrun by the Ottoman Turks. Bulgaria did not become completely independent from the Ottoman Empire until 1908.
Having fought on the losing side in both World Wars, Bulgaria fell within the Soviet sphere of influence and became a People's Republic in 1946. Bulgaria was one of the USSR’s staunchest allies, but Communist rule came to an end in 1990. In the 1990s, Bulgaria held its first multiparty election since World War II and began the contentious process of moving toward political democracy and a market economy while combating inflation, unemployment, corruption, and crime. Though mass emigrations have drastically reduced the country’s population, today, reforms and democratization have put Bulgaria on the path toward integration into the European Union in 2007.
Well-known for its rich folklore and traditional music, Bulgaria is also the birthplace of the Cyrillic alphabet, the second most widely used alphabet in the world. The Bulgarian people celebrate a wide variety of festivities and holidays, and take pride in the vivacity of their celebrations. One such celebration takes place on the first of March each year to celebrate the awakening of spring. During this time, Bulgarians give each other martenitsas, small figures of white and red threads, to symbolize spring, health, and happiness.
The Bulgarian people also celebrate Christmas two days of the year, December 25 and 26. During Soviet domination, the people were forbidden to celebrate Christmas. Undaunted, the Bulgarians created a secular holiday that allowed them to take part in many traditional Christmas festivities, to be celebrated on December 26. After the Communist era, the people once again celebrated Christmas on December 25, but they continued to celebrate December 26, as well.
The Bulgarian church is alive and growing. Over 80% of the population are Eastern Orthodox Christians. The number of Evangelicals has tripled since 1970; the most rapid church growth since 1990 has been among Pentecostals. The Gospel is also making a tremendous impact among Bulgaria’s significant Turkish and Gypsy populations.