The visitors of Razlog who have chosen to welcome this special corner of Bulgaria have the opportunity to become part of a local tradition starting somewhere in the distant past. Once in touch with the local culture, they are inevitably urged to come back and feel again the magic of tradition and legend by taking part in the next celebration.
Starchevata New Year Kukeri Festival
Each year on January 1, the central square of Razlog becomes a stage, a meeting place for the Kukeri, young girls and boys from all seven quarters of the town.
The roots of this tradition are hidden in the Thracian legends and myths of the Dionysius Mysteries. This is a symbiosis between a pagan culture intertwined with Christian values. The new beginning and the parting of the Old and New Years can be fully experienced and felt by the participants in the carnival.
The chasing of evil spirits and the new beginning form the basis and the semantics of the celebration.
The Kukeri rituals are led by the older member of the group who ploughs the ground and seeds the symbol of fertility and well-being for the region. This ritual gives the start of the new year in the municipality, sending the old one away. The local Kukeri called Chaushi differ from their ‘colleagues’ around the country. Their costumes are being prepared during the whole year to demonstrate the beauty and importance of the ritual, made of goat skin, Kukeri hats and masks and heavy copper bells. This annual tradition, repeated over and over with variations but still unique for the country has placed Razlog among the renowned carnival towns of Europe. It serves as a start to the January International Kukeri Festival/Competition, under the auspices of the Razlog Municipality and the FECC (The Federation of European Carnival Cities).
The feast is connected with bathing of the children and giving presents to the midwife (the traditional word in Bulgarian is baba, same as grandmother) as a sign of gratitude that she assisted the young woman when giving birth to her child.
After the traditional ritual the so called “Grandmothers’ horo” takes place in the town square with the grannies carring their grandchildren-babies and singing traditional songs without accompaniment.
The feast is celebrated on January 21-st around noon in the center of Razlog.
Easter in the village of Eleshnitsa
Specific for the village of Eleshnitsa is that the mummers festival there is held on the first day after Easter and costumed women also take part in it. Every year on Easter Eleshnitsa scares away evil spirits from the old year with traditional rituals, carnival masks, lots of music and dancing. The holiday is associated with the spring awakening of nature. Preparation for the mummers festival continues almost three months as this is the most awaited event for the local people.
Attraction during the Mummers carnival is the traditional contest in singing and dancing. This is an incredible feast of sounds, costumes and colors.
Todorovden (St. Todor’s day)
Todorovden in the village of Bachevo is celebrated every year on the first Saturday of Lent with the traditional “kushia” – horse race, a custom in which participates the whole village. It is celebrated from time immemorial, the day is also called Horse Easter.
There is a holiday mess in the centre of the village, women feed the horses with ritual bread. After that is the traditional racing in Vlasovitsa area.
FIRE OF FREEDOM IN RAZLOG FOR THE NATIONAL HOLIDAY
March 3 – freedom, pride and ardent spirit accompany this great date, which every Bulgarian associates with the best dates of his life! For the people of Razlog, freedom is a particularly valuable thing – it is a symbol, it is a flag and a cradle of life.
The solemn celebration of March 3 ends with the lighting of the Fire of Freedom, the called “Gare”, symbol of peace and the free spirit of the people.
“Sirni Zagovezni” – Forgiveness
In the first week of March, depending on the church calendar, “Forgiveness” is celebrated. The custom is associated with the beginning of Lent. During the day boys and girls go to the forest and collect juniper twigs. Juniper accumulates in large bowls (gareta) in the 7 districts of Razlog as the goal is for the bowl to be the biggest and tallest.After the morning liturgy we go to relatives for forgiveness.In the evening the stations are lit and whirlwind people around them whirl, and at home we eat a traditional pie with cheese A red thread is hung on the ceiling, on which a halva or an egg is tied and an “amka” is tied.