The weekend before Orthodox Easter is a special time in Bulgaria. Associated with the height of spring and all the positivity, hope and love that come with it, Lazarus Saturday (Лазарица, Lazaritsa) and Palm Sunday (Цветница, Tsvetnitsa) are a lot more than religious holidays!
Lazaritsa, the Saturday, is the time for a curious love and marriage custom performed by unmarried girls. The girls, called lazarki, tour each house in the village. Wearing their traditional folk dresses, they sing a unique set of songs not performed on any other day. The girls also pick flowers and make colourful wreaths. On the following day, the lazarki simultaneously throw the wreaths into a river in a sort of “catch the wedding bouquet” contest. Whoever’s wreath ends up first will be the first to marry!
On Palm Sunday, churches hand out willow branches to visitors. Perhaps willows serve as a replacement for palm leaves: native palms are obviously lacking in Bulgaria! The willow branches are then brought home because they are believed to bring health to the family and protect from evil.
Besides a major Orthodox holiday, Tsvetnitsa is a huge name day in Bulgaria too. After all, most of the hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians who carry names associated with flowers, trees and nature in general have a reason to celebrate on this day!