Bulgaria, a land steeped in rich history and vibrant culture, is home to wedding traditions that are as astonishing as they are ancient. These rituals have been passed down through generations, shaping the way Bulgarians celebrate the union of two souls. Beyond being a mere celebration of love, a Bulgarian wedding is a profound union of two families and the beginning of a shared history.
Modern Bulgarian weddings are often reminiscent of extravagant prom nights, where couples gather with their loved ones, sign marriage contracts, and exchange vows in local churches. However, the roots of these celebrations run much deeper, characterized by lively festivities, exuberant dancing, and generous amounts of homemade rakia and wine. Yet, they can also be exhausting affairs, spanning over 16 hours with various locations to attend.
In this article, we delve into six captivating Bulgarian wedding traditions that continue to captivate and fascinate. These traditions offer a glimpse into the country’s rich cultural heritage and might inspire you to incorporate some of them into your own wedding, or at the very least, to appreciate their unique charm.
Bulgarian Wedding Tradition #1: The Creation of the Wedding Flag
In times past, Bulgarian ancestors would hoist flags in their homes to signal a grand wedding celebration. These flags, typically raised high in the groom’s house, faced the sun, symbolizing good fortune for the soon-to-be-married couple. The journey of crafting the wedding flag commenced in the forest, where the groom would fell a tree with a single mighty stroke, signifying the couple’s commitment to a lifelong marriage. The choice of tree was critical, as it had to bear fruits and remain healthy, or it foretold ill luck.
Afterward, the tree branch was adorned with red or red-and-white fabric at the groom’s house. It was then sent to the bride’s house, where she and her friends sang songs and warded off any negative energy it might carry. Intriguingly, after the wedding, the flag met its end at the hands of the godparents, either being broken, hidden, or thrown into water to prevent the newlyweds from ever laying eyes on it again.
Bulgarian Wedding Tradition #2: The Long Walk of the Wedding Invitation
Centuries ago, Bulgarian villages witnessed the birth of the wedding invitation ritual, an event marked by the bride, the groom’s siblings, and their relatives embarking on a village-wide journey to invite the community. The groom, dressed in his finest attire and armed with Bulgarian wine or rakija, visited every household, offering a sip to the hosts as a sign of invitation. The bride’s mother, meanwhile, carried apples, extending another invitation gesture.
Remarkably, some regions even invited the departed, placing apples on their graves to include them in the wedding festivities. It was a testament to the deep sense of community that characterized Bulgarian villages.
Bulgarian Wedding Tradition #3: Bachelor Parties in the Past
While today’s bachelor parties are raucous celebrations, in the past, they held a different atmosphere. For the bride’s bachelorette party, the groom would send gifts, including wine, rakija, bread, jewelry, and wreaths. She would host her friends, singing melancholic songs about parting from her father’s home and subsequently dancing the night away in a “horo.”
Conversely, the groom’s bachelor party had a more serious tone. Surrounded by friends, each guest brought something to the table. Jokes, dares, masks, and riddles filled the evening, while the godfather, a figure of respect, presided over the festivities. In some regions, the groom’s silence in his presence symbolized respect.
Bulgarian Wedding Tradition #4: The Weaving of the Bride and the Shaving of the Groom
Braiding the bride’s hair held profound significance, symbolizing her transformation from a girl to a bride. The ritual unfolded at sunrise on the wedding day, with the bride facing the sun to invoke fertility. Friends gathered to sing songs as they braided her hair, typically performed by the godmother or friends, with both sets of parents alive for good fortune.
Grooming the groom was equally essential. On the wedding day, the groom sat beneath a tree, beginning with a cleansing using water from the nearest spring. The grooming commenced from right to left, associating the right side with good fortune and the left with misfortune. Two girls held a white towel under his chin, collecting fallen hairs to be buried under a tree to prevent black magic.
Bulgarian Wedding Tradition #5: The Red Veil and the “Theft” of the Bride
The tradition of “stealing” the bride was not as it may sound. After the braiding ceremony, the bride donned a red veil in front of the fireplace, followed by her wedding gown. The groom and his brother then arrived to claim her but were blocked by the bride’s family. Only after a small payment did they gain entry, with the groom’s brother placing shoes filled with coins on the bride’s feet. She was then whisked away with her red veil still concealing her face, as the wedding procession wound through the village before reaching the groom’s house.
Bulgarian Wedding Tradition #6: The “Kumove” in the Bulgarian Wedding
In Bulgaria, the “kumove” or godparents are typically an older couple and close friends of the newlyweds. They play several vital roles in the wedding, serving as witnesses for the civil marriage and participating in various Orthodox religious ceremonies. These rituals include ring exchanges, crowning, and buying or “stealing” the bride. The godparents also present the bride with her bouquet and engage in the “veiling” ceremony.
At the reception, the godparents give the first toast, lead traditional dances, and engage in a spirited dancing ritual called “kumova rachenitsa.” Here, they dance with other participants, attempting to “steal” a ritual bread and a lavishly decorated roasted chicken.
Bulgarian Wedding Tradition #7: Who Will Be the Boss
The final, significant tradition in Bulgarian weddings determines who will wield power within the marriage. The bride and groom stand back-to-back, each holding a large round loaf of bread over their heads. At a designated signal, they attempt to divide the loaf, with the larger chunk symbolizing the dominant partner in the relationship.
As the ceremony concludes with the exchange of rings and a kiss, the couple faces another custom: “stepping.” The first to step on the other’s foot is believed to assert dominance in the marriage.
A Bulgarian wedding is a day filled with joy, laughter, and enduring traditions that connect the present to the past. While modern celebrations may have evolved, these remarkable rituals continue to honor the country’s rich cultural heritage, offering a glimpse into a time when love was celebrated with fervor and tradition. So, if you find yourself invited to a Bulgarian wedding, brace yourself for a day of merriment and enduring customs that will leave you with memories to cherish for a lifetime.