Mar 03

The Story Behind Bulgaria’s National Holiday

By Darina Rossier | History

On 3rd of March Bulgarians celebrate their national holiday annually.  There are fireworks and celebrations and no one has to go to work. But what happened on this day? What do Bulgarians celebrate?

The Rebellion

The slaughter at Batak

The slaughter at Batak by Antony Piotrovski

Before the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878 the Balkan peninsula was almost entirely part of the Ottoman empire. Bulgarians were under the Ottoman reign for nearly 500 years. But they never stopped wanting to be free.

The April rebellion of 1876 proved how desperately did the Bulgarians want freedom. The rebellion started on 20th April in Koprivshtitsa earlier than planned due to a leak of information. Once started, the rebels spread the news to the other regions. Todor Kableshkov, a noted Bulgarian rebel, sent to Panagyurishte the famous “Blood letter”, written with a dead Turk’s blood and informing the recipients that the revolution has started.

A lot of towns fought but the rebellion was crushed. And it was not only the rebelling men that were hanged and punished. In Batak, the Turkish army atrociously slaughtered the local women, children and old men who took refuge in the church and burned to the ground a lot of the rebelling villages.

The War

From first sight it looked like the rebellion did not help in any way. But in fact, it was this desperate act that attracted the attention of Europe. The Bulgarian cause for political independence found supporters in the face of Victor Hugo, Lev Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Russia was especially supportive of the Bulgarian cause, Britain – of the Ottoman empire. The great European political powers started shifting for or against the Ottoman empire. The majority’s decision was pronounced by the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck: “There is no place for Turkey in Europe”.

The war started. The Russians divided their army into 3 detachments – West, Ruschushki and Front. While the West detachment besieged Osman pasha and his men in Pleven, the Front detachment went South through Shipka pass. As a reaction, the Turkish sent Siuleiman pasha’s army to Shipka pass. Their goal was to help Osman pasha’s army. The Russian army did not have a strategic reserve for this move and as a result, the success of the war was entirely dependant on the battle at Shipka pass.

The Battle at Shipka

The Battle of Shipka

The Battle of Shipka

The battle at Shipka pass was one of the most epic battles in Bulgaria’s 1300-year history. The Front detachment, whose goal was to keep the pass included the whole Bulgarian army of volunteers. The famous Bulgarian author Ivan Vazov expertly retells what the army went through in an unequal fight against the ever coming Turkish hordes in his poem “The volunteers at Shipka”.

According to his account, the Bulgarian-Russian army was outnumbered. At a certain point the bullets were over, so they started using trees and stones, and eventually – their dead fellow man’s bodies.

This desperate fights kept the pass and the Russian army managed to advance almost until Tsarigrad. They were forced to accept a peace agreement because the British minister Benjamin Disraeli threatened to send UK army to help the Turkish.

The Peace Treaty

Treaty of San Stefano and Berlin

Treaty of San Stefano and Berlin

On 3rd of March, 1878 a peace treaty was signed in San Stefano between Russia and the Ottoman empire. The treaty created an autonomous tributary Bulgarian kingdom with christian government and the right to have an army. After 500 years Bulgaria was free again. However, not for long.

The neighbouring states as well as Great Britain and France were alarmed by this new player on the European stage. As a result, the San Stefano treaty was superseded by the Treaty of Berlin. Bulgaria was divided to Principality of Bulgaria, the autonomous province of Eastern Rumelia, and Macedonia, which was given back to the Ottomans.

Even though it took Bulgaria a few more years to get back its provinces, the treaty of San Stefano is the historic moment in which Bulgaria was proclaimed a free autonomous country. And this is what Bulgarians celebrate – the freedom they have and the lives of the brave men who made this freedom possible.

So, happy Liberation Day, Bulgaria.



Aug 29

Bulgarian Chocolate

By Darina Rossier | Cuisine , Culture , History

Recently I found an interesting old advertisement of Bulgarian chocolate. It is from the blog Stara Sofia, which is devoted to the history of the Bulgarian capital, specifically after the liberation and before the communist regime. Here is the history nugget for today:

Here is what the advertisement says:

The only factory in Bulgaria for cocoa, chocolate and all kinds of candies


Recommends its produce, by the Governmental Laboratory and found – pure – natural and unlike the falsified European ones. The latest medical science states: “The chocolate is required for recovery of the health which is upset by one reason or another, because it contains all needed elements for renewing of the blood, if up to 200 grams are used daily.”

Prices are most advantageous, available for everyone.

Selling in big and small quantities. If desired it can be sent to the countryside too.

Isn’t that an amusing advertisement? According to the science from 1904 you can eat up to 200 grams of chocolate a day and it will only benefit your health. But this, of course, is only for the good Bulgarian chocolates, not the false European ones.

This peculiar ad inspired me to learn more about the time period and the chocolate. And I decided to share it with you.

Chocolate making was Velizar Pehev’s chosen trade after being an officer in the Bulgarian army. After a confrontation with King Ferdinand he lost his job. Even though he thought the European chocolates “fake”, Velizar learned to be a chocolatier in France, where he worked for a year in a chocolate factory. He was careful to learn and had the habit of taking notes all the time, which made his coworkers suspicious. They thought he was a spy for another factory and reported him to the boss. Pehev explained that he wants to introduce chocolate in Bulgaria and his honesty put him in his mates’ good graces. When he returned, he took with him some of his coworkers, who helped him establish his business. But more about him later, let’s get back to chocolate.

At the beginning of the 20th century, chocolate was a novelty in Bulgaria. It was considered a luxury and a lot of spiritual leaders at the time were declaring it to be “disgusting” and “food of the Devil”. The people who were brave enough to try this temptation often had to ask the chocolate maker “How do I eat this, with the shiny paper or not?”.

In the book My home town Sofia, Rayna Kostentseva shares her childhood memories. One of them is the reaction of her family when her godmother gave her chocolate for the first time:

“What can this wonder be!” I was thinking and everyone around me kept guessing. I unfolded carefully one of the blocks, trying not to tear the picture on it.
“Ha! Black” I cried, extremely surprised.
“Little soaps” added my mother.
I decided to lick one to make sure they really were soaps. When my tongue touched the block, I felt bittersweet taste.
“This is for food, mama!” I called as if I have discovered America.
“It cannot be!” my mother protested. “Don’t eat, wait until I try it first so you don’t poison yourself.”
When she tried the “soap”, she immediately threw it and went to wash her mouth.
“This is cat’s poo, get it out of here!”
When my godmother first ate one of these black “soaps” and explained what they were, I started eating them devouringly. After this case, my mother never tried chocolate in her life again.

So, when Pehev was starting his business, it was a risky and difficult venture. Despite the mistrust of banks, lack of market, competition from imported products and problems with deliveries, Bulgarians liked the chocolate and Pehev’s business flourished. Velizar became the main producer of chocolate in Bulgaria, making 2/3 of all cocoa products in Bulgaria. In the 30s, the chocolate made by Pehev took the first place in the international fairs in Bern, Paris and Vienna.

Pehev expanded his production and opened a modern-day factory in Svoge in 1922. After Velizar’s death in 1927, his son took over the business. The communist regime forcefully took over all private businesses and the factory in Svoge was no exception. The government renamed the factory “Republica” and continued production of sugary foods. If you go to Bulgaria today, you can try the Republica (Република) bars which are still sold in every store.

After the communism, Kraft Foods bought the factory and started producing chocolate Svoge (Своге). Their famous advertisement with the catchphrase “Bulgarian (chocolate), from Svoge” implied quality Bulgarian chocolate. It is, however, made with a Swiss recipe, so the old tradition of over-patriotic company’s advertisements continues.

Despite the foreign recipe Svoge is considered a very Bulgarian chocolate and I advise you to try it on your next visit. If you have a sweet tooth try also Suha pasta Balkan (суха паста Балкан) which at a certain point was also produced in Pehev’s factory.

Aug 12

Bulgarian Folklore: Talasuhm

By Darina Rossier | Bulgarian Folklore , Culture

talasuhmIn Bulgarian folklore Talasuhm is an evil spirit which haunts and protects buildings, bridges and fountains. It can take the appearance of a dog or a cat or even other domestic animals.

There are two ways a talasuhm can come into existence. One is when a person or a person’s shadow are built into a bridge, fountain or a building.


The ancient Bulgarians believed that a big building needs a sacrefice in order to be completed. The builders used to either add soemthing living in the foundations or built someone’s shadow. The animal or person’s shadow was then measured, its measurement put in a box which was then build in the foundations of the building. It was believed that the man, woman or animal who’s shadow was built will die in 40 days and the shadow will be turned into a talasuhm – protecting the building forever.

There are many old stories about people who died after their shadow was build which indicates how strong this belief was. The following story is worthy of our Bulgarian Horrible Histories series apart from the lack of historic evidence.

Kadin Bridge

Kadin Bridge

Legend tells us that the building process of Kadin bridge (Kadin Most, Koprivshtitsa | Кадин мост, Копривщица) was very difficult because whatever the builders did during the day was carried away by the violent waters of Struma river. The builders decided that in order to finish their project a sacrifice has to be made – one of their wives. They agreed that the first of their wives who comes at morning to bring them food will be sacrificed. Struma, the wife of the master builder Manol came first that day. She was build in the foundation of the bridge. Thus the name of the bridge – Kadin comes from the old Turkish word for “wife”.

The other way a talasuhm is created is by burying a treasure. The spirit comes to life when a sacrifice is made over the place where the treasure is buried. On certain holidays (Christmas, Gergiovden, Eniovden) blue flame burns over the buried treasure showing its location. The loot can be taken then if flour or cinder are sprinkled over the place. At morning, according to the kind of footprints in the flour it will be known what kind of sacrifice is needed for the talasuhm to release the treasure – animal or human. If no sacrifice is given the treasure hunter must fight the talasuhm until dawn, when the spirit looses its power.

If you are interested in Bulgarian folklore, feel free to also check the article about the alluring Samodiva.

Jul 25

Bulgarian Holidays: Name Days

By Darina | Culture

The celebration of name days is an important Bulgarian tradition. Unlike most of the old customs, this one has been preserved throughout the generations and is kept even today.

Where Did Name Days Come From?

The keeping of name days comes from the Orthodox Christian religion and its saints. The Orthodox calendar is abundant with days devoted to one saint or another. In the past, when the Christianity was establishing itself as a main religion in Bulgaria, the people started naming their children after the saints from this calendar. They believed that the child named after a certain saint will be looked after and blessed by him. With time people started associating the holiday much more with the name than with the saint. For example, the day of St. George (Свети Георги) became George’s day (гергьовден, gergiovden).

How To Celebrate A Name Day?

The way the name day was celebrated changed throughout the years too. In the traditional way it is not needed to be invited in order to attend the celebration. The person whose name was celebrated was prepared for all the guests that might drop by with alcoholic drinks, sweets and starters or a full meal. It is believed that giving food and drinks to your friends and family on your name day will bring you health and blessings. Nowadays, even though the tradition is still kept, in most cases and especially if the name-bearer (именник) is a younger person, it is considered impolite to go uninvited. Young people also tend to celebrate their name days in a bar, disco or a house party.

The name day is almost celebrated like a birthday. It is however, not required to bring a gift or flowers, unless you want to. And if you cannot go to a name day celebration, it is still good to greet the imennik (the name-bearer) by phone, sms or mail. The appropriate greetings for this occasion are Честит имен ден (Chestit imen den, Happy Name Day), Да се слави името ти (Da se slavi imeto ti, Honoured be your name), За много години (Za mnogo godini, For many years to come). The first of these greetings is most commonly used.

Popular Name Days

There are many name days, but a few are especially popular. For example, such days are Vassilevden, Gergiovden, Tsvetnitsa (Flower names’ day), Atanasovden, Trifon Zarezan, Todorovden, Petrovden, Dimitrovden, etc. Note that not only people called Ivan celebrate on Ivanovden, for example, but everyone whose name is close to that, such as Yoana, Yvon, etc. So, when do you think your name day will be? You can click here and find out.

Jun 24

Bulgarian Holidays: Eniovden

By Darina | Bulgarian Folklore , Culture


Eniovden (Еньовден) is an old Bulgarian holiday, celebrated annually on June 24. It is believed that its roots lie in the Thracian tradition. However, the traditions and rituals of the Christian holiday St. John’s Day, which is on the same date, often mingle with Eniovden.

Since the the holiday is on midsummer a lot of the traditions and rituals are related to the cult of the sun, typical for the Thracians. But Eniovden is also a Bulgarian name day. Everyone bearing a name such as Enio, Jana, Janka, Janko, Janitsa, Janik, Janislav, John, Joan, Diane, Dylian, etc., as well as the ones named after herbs, celebrate their name on this day.

According to Bulgarian folklore, the beginning of winter starts on Eniovden. It was believed that when the sun rises that day it trembles and dances and whoever sees it is going to be healthy during the coming year. At sunrise, people turn facing the sun, watching their shadows over their shoulders. If the shadow is whole, the person will be healthy, if it is halved – he will be sick that year.

It is not allowed to work on the fields or wash clothes on the day of the holiday. The people believed that St. Enio will kill with lightnings the person who disregards his holiday. And if someone washes clothes on this day a family member will become ill.

Festive Costume for Eniova Bulia

Festive Costume for Eniova Bulia

It was also believed that before the sun starts the long way towards winter, it stops to rest. It rises very early to say “goodbye” to the world it will not see for so long and bathes in the waters on Earth, making them healing. When it drains itself, the water that falls off becomes dew. This dew has a special magical power and therefore, for good health, everyone baths at Eniovden’s morning and then rubs in the dew.

It is considered that the herbs have the most healing power on Eniovden, especially if gathered at sunrise. The herbs stored for winter have to be  exactly “77 and a half”, for each disease and for the nameless illness.

During the day of the holiday the maidens from the village gather together and prepare the Eniova Bulia (Enio’s Bride). They take a 5 year old girl and dress her with white gown and red jacket, a red veil and a crown of eniovche (galium plant) with a silver coin. Then they take the girl and parade it trough the village, fields and water springs, while singing holiday songs. This ritual’s purpose is to ask St. Enio for health for the people and fertility for the land.

At sunset people gather “silent water” for healing and divination. In complete silence, so they don’t destroy its magic power, they take the water from a clear, sweet spring. The water is then used to foretell about health, marriage and fertility.

Jun 24

More Tips for Learning Bulgarian

By Darina | Language , Learning

Bulgarian leaningIn the previous article we gave you some tips about learning Bulgarian. But there are more things you can do to make the learning experience easier and more entertaining.

Visualize what You Learn

It helps if you visualize the words that you are learning. Don’t just translate them to English, but try to imagine the object or action that the word represents. If you want to learn the word for “pear”, imagine the fruit and connect it with the word in Bulgarian – круша. This video lesson can help you learn a few fruits by visualizing them.

Learn Phrases

Learn phrases rather than verbs. It is easier to remember because there is a story behind. You can even invent funny or silly sentences to help you remember the more challenging words. It’s easier to remember the phrase “Един билет, моля” (One ticket please), than the word билет on its own.

Learn Grammar Literally

Imagining the grammar literally will help you learn it faster. Don’t try to translate grammar. For example, the Bulgarian phrase for “I miss you” is Липсваш ми which literally translates to “You are missing to me”.


Find a Bulgarian you can talk with. If you already have Bulgarian friends ask them to speak with you in their language from time to time. If you don’t have any Bulgarians to talk to go to a chat room or Facebook and meet some. Bulgarians are quite curious about foreigners and would gladly help you exercise. When you learn a new word try to use it immediately in the next sentence, if possible, in order to commit it to mind. We remember by repetition so you need to repeat the new words until you get familiar with them.

Immerse Yourself in the Language

Exercise by reading news in Bulgarian (you can do it herehere and here), watching TV shows (here), reading stories (such as Little Red Riding Hood), listening to radio (here) or watching Bulgarian movies (here). Do a Bulgarian day. Cook yourself a moussaka, read the news and watch this Bulgarian comedy. Don’t worry if you don’t understand all. The immersion in the language will help you, you will realize later that you recognise words that you’ve heard in this movie or that radio program and that will make them easier to remember.

What’s the Word For…

This basic sentence will help you learn a lot of new Bulgarian words. So, if you want to know how an object is called in Bulgarian, point at it and ask the nearest Bulgarian “Коя е думата за това?” (Koia e dumata za tova?|What is the word for this?).

Learn Bulgarian Idioms

Start learning idioms. If you translate them literally some of them sound funny and are easy to remember. For example, the idiom изплюй камъчето, literally translates to “spit out the pebble”, but is used as the English “spill the beans”. This will help you get a feeling for the language.

Jun 17

How to Learn Bulgarian

By Darina | Language , Learning

Learning Bulgarian

Learning a new language is always a challenge. A lot of new words have to be remembered and new sentence structure and grammatical rules have to be mastered. It can, however, be a fun process.

Listed below are a few tips that will show you how to learn Bulgarian easily by emerging yourself in the language.

Create a Routine

Do a little every day. It doesn’t have to be for long, but if you don’t refresh your knowledge daily, you will forget what you know easily. In order to create a routine easily, add the Bulgarian learning activity to an already existing routine. Learn a few new words with your morning coffee or watch a short video lesson before your TV time at evening. Make it happen.

Learn the Correct Pronunciation

Most languages have general rules for the correct words stress. Bulgarian is not one of them. It is easier, therefore, to memorize each word with the correct word stress from the beginning. On this website, all Bulgarian words have the correct stress indicated with a bold letter. For example: Ябълка – the letter я is the sound which should be prolonged when you pronounce the word.

Practise Unfamiliar Sounds

Every language has their typical sounds. In Bulgarian, the sounds that are different from any sound in English are the ones corresponding to the letters ж, р, ц, ч, ъ. You can hear them in our alphabet video.

Flash Cards

It is a well known technique. You can make them yourself, using small cards with the Bulgarian word on one side and the English one on the other. Flip them during the day and examine yourself. There are also a lot of free flash card apps for smartphones, which provide you with hassle free learning. You can learn while waiting on the bus stop and utilize otherwise wasted time. You can also employ your visual memory by adding post it notes on common objects at home which you are currently trying to remember. Stick a note at your hair brush saying “четка”, and after a few days you will learn the word without much effort on your part.

Talk to Yourself in Bulgarian

As an addition to flash cards, a good exercise would be to speak in your head the words corresponding to the objects you see. Go trough your day and when you see a lamp, a car or a store, say the words in Bulgarian in your mind. To expand this even further, try to think whole sentences. Write your shopping list in Bulgarian or if you are a diary person, try to add a short entry in Bulgarian every day. This might not be a controlled environment but you will still be practicing and that’s more important.

Allow Yourself to Make Mistakes

Learning a new language always involves some awkward situations. You will say stupid things, you will misunderstand people. This is part of the process. Embrace it. Enjoy it. After a few years when you become fluent in Bulgarian you will have a good arsenal of funny lost-in-translation stories to share with your friends. It is not a big deal to make mistakes but it is important to get over the fear of it, because it hinders you to exercise and practising is the best way to learn a language.

Jun 10

Bulgarian Folklore: Samodiva

By Darina | Bulgarian Folklore , Culture

Girl in fairy forestIn Bulgarian folklore Samodiva (самодива, plural: самодиви) is an ethereal female wood nymph. She is unearthly beautiful and eternally young. Her hair is blond and long, her waist is thin and petite, her eyes can bewitch and dazzle or even kill. Any man who lays eyes on her instantly falls in love. A woman who sees a samodiva can go as far as killing herself because she cannot take so much beauty.

Samodivas’ attire consists of long white gowns and shirts and a rainbow-coloured or green belt. They have a white mantel, also called a shadow, in which their power lies. They like to ride deer, using twisted snakes for reins and often carry with them bows and arrows. If a huntsman accidentally kills a samodiva’s deer, she will make him blind or give him a disease which will inevitably lead to his death.

The wood nymphs live in dark forests, in big old trees, caves or forgotten huts which are near water sources, wells or rivers. Samodivas can be spotted from spring to autumn. In winter they live in the mythical village Zmeykovo, which is located at the edge of the world and is a home to many mythical creatures. When they are on earth they are active at night and disappear immediately when the sun comes out, because they fear it.

SamodiviAt twilight, the samodivas go to fresh water sources, strip naked, wash themselves and their clothes which they lay out to dry in the moonlight. They keep a watchful eye on their drying clothes, because if a man steals their mantle, where their power lies, they turn into normal women and have to obey the man. If this happens, they can marry and bear children, but they can never be good mothers or housewives and will always crave their freedom.

After washing themselves and their clothes, the samodivas gather around and start singing and dancing. It is known that the samodiva’s songs are the most beautiful and their dances are the most graceful. If a late traveller sees the samodivas’ dance, he is enticed to join them and dances with them from midnight to dawn. When the sun’s rays appear, the nymphs disappear in haste and leave the traveller to die from exhaustion. The samodivas love music and often kidnap shepherds, so that they can play kaval (кавал, shepherd’s pipe) for them while they dance.

Some say that samodivas are children of lamia (dragon-like creature). Others say they are wicked women who died and are stuck in between heaven and hell or that they are maidens who died before they knew a man. Even though they are heathen creatures, they observe the Christian holidays, especially Easter. They punish everyone who does not keep the holidays with blindness or death.

Samodivas are not always harmful. Sometimes they appear like normal working women and help with the harvest. They would especially help women with children. If a man does something good for a samodiva, she becomes his patron or a sworn sister. Sometimes, a samodiva can fall in love with a human and bear him children, who grow up to be great heroes.

Samodivas are forest creatures and therefore knowledgeable about herbs and cures. However, they never share their secrets willingly. The only way to obtain their knowledge is to eavesdrop on one of their gatherings.

The earliest records of the belief that samodivas exist are from the 13th century. It is considered that the belief is based on Thracian legend. Until this day there are a lot of Bulgarian folklore tales and poems devoted to these elusive beauties.