The Koukeri ritual at Shrove Sunday


Shrove Sunday (also known as the First Sunday before the Lent) - is the day for forgiveness. According to Bulgarian traditions, family members are giving each other their forgiveness during a family dinner later that day. People use set phrases, such as “Forgive me, mother, ...father...” and “Let all be forgiven to you... God forgives” to ask and give their pardoning to their close ones. The popular ritual of hamkane is performed that night – a peeled boiled egg, a piece of halva or a coal is tied to a piece of thread hanging from a long pole. Then the thread is moved around in large circles and everyone around the feast table (especially the younger kids) is trying to catch it with mouth only (no use of hands is allowed).
The most typical tradition connected to that day is starting the feast fires. Right from the very dawn, a Koukeri band starts its walk around everybody’s home. By means of various symbolic and ritual-magic actions, they are wishing health, land fertility and prosperity to the hosts.
At Shrove Sunday, the spirit gets purged by the forgiveness given and asked for, the body gets stronger if the person manages to jump over the fire, and the nature sends away evil forces by the ringing of the Koukeri bells. The dance of those masked men brings blessing and land fertility. A Kouker young woman (also called bride) starts ploughing the field and calls fertility, health and good luck to come into people’s houses.
In the morning of March 1 the housewives hang out red aprons, belts, thread, rugs or twisted threads in front of their houses to protect them from illnesses and poverty. When Baba Martha sees them she would start laughing and this way make the sun shine again. The women twist white and red threads together and make martenitsas, which they later give to all members of the family to wear. The martenitsa must be twisted in the way young unmarried women twist around the bachelors. The married women place their martenitsas on the right side of their chests, the single on the left. The bachelors wear the martenitsas with their ends spread and the elders on the contrary make sure their martenitsas are well and neatly arranged, so that they don’t fly around at gatherings.
In general the martenitsa keeps the person wearing it from bad luck and illnesses. Once the owner of the martenitsa sees the first stork for the spring he or she must take their martenitsas off and hang it on a blooming tree. In other parts of Bulgaria people leave their martenitsas under large stones only to return nine days later and see what they will find underneath it. If they find ants then the year will be rich with sheep, if they find larger bugs then the year will be rich with cows. Other people throw their martenitsas in the river, so that their lives run smoothly and they escape the hardships of life.
In some parts of the country the first week of March is called the counting days, which determine what the weather would be like all through the new year. There is another custom – the picking of a day – people choose a day from the month of March and then wait this day to come to see if it would be sunny or rainy, cold or warm, as their lives would be during the whole year.






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