A Bulgarian ritual in the Intangible Heritage of UNESCO




    Live coal dancing

    Live coal dancing, also known as fire dancing, is a centuries old Bulgarian tradition. The village of Bulgari, situated in Strandzha region, is the only place in Bulgaria where live coal dancing still exists in its original form. It takes place on the 3rd July, according to the old calendar, when Bulgarians celebrate Saints Constantine and Helena’s day. They are the patron saints of this ritual. People dance on live coals to ensure the fertility and the well-being of the village. Dancers can be men or women.

    On the 3rd July, early in the morning, villagers cover the icons of both saints with special decoration. Forming a festive procession, people take the saints’ icons to a holy water spring. There, people receive holy water and candles for good health. In the evening, dancers go to St. Constantine chapel. They light candles and pray in front of the icons.

    Meanwhile, other villagers spread some preheated coals in a circle. When darkness falls, the dancers, called Nestinari, go to the centre of the village to the accompaniment of a drum and a bagpipe. The chief fire dancer starts the ritual. Carrying an icon, the first enters the circle of live coals, entranced by the rhythm of the drum. The other Nestinari follow him. The circulation of this ritual is Kostadinsko Horo (a round dance). It differs from all other Bulgarian round dances. The dancers perform the first step with their left feet, something uncommon for the round dances of Bulgaria.