by Dimana Trankova; photography by Anthony Georgieff

Bulgarians love to boast the real or imaginary uniqueness of their feasts, from the Kukeri dances to the Nestinari firewalking, and from vine pruning during St Trifon Zarezan's feast to picking of oil bearing roses. What unites these is their long history, spanning centuries and probably millennia.

july morning bulgaria.jpg

Bulgaria, however, is also the home of a feast that is unique to it yet in the best case scenario is no older than 35 years.

On the night of 30 June and 1 July, people gather by the sea. They spend the night drinking and listening to music, and when the sun begins to rise, they play Uriah Heep's song July Morning. Everyone is happy.

Due to some serious lagging behind in pop culture under Communism and the nostalgia of those who were young back then, Bulgaria is probably the last place in the world where the names of the band Uriah Heep and their 1971 track July Morning still ring some bells.

The feast in question is actually called after that song: its Bulgarian name Dzhulay or Dzhulaya is the shortened and Bulgarianised version.

Dzhulay is the feast of what in Bulgaria goes for hippies, and symbolises freedom, spirituality and the beginning of summer.

Who and when celebrated Dzhulay first is open to speculation and at least two theories, told and retold by self-proclaimed participants in the original event, circulate around. What unites them is the location: the waterfront of Varna. According to one of the accounts, the first Dzhulay was celebrated in 1980 by a bunch of friends who were about to begin their two-year-long compulsory military service. Hippies to the bottom of their souls, they combined the symbolical beginning of their last "summer of freedom" with a song that looked quite topical. In the following years no celebrations were made, as most of the involved were in the army. The tradition was renewed in 1984.

The second account is also connected with the Bulgarian army. During his military service, a hippie from Varna was on fatigue duty on the night of 30 June. While he watched the sunrise on the morning of 1 July, Uriah Heep's song was in his head. Overwhelmed with his loneliness, both physical and spiritual, the man promised himself that from now on nobody will be alone on the sunrise of 1 July. After he was discharged, back in Varna, he introduced the idea to some friends.

They were delighted. The year was 1985. On the following 1 July, they replayed the event; soon the rumour of the Dzhulay spread and dozens of similar-minded people started flocking to Varna.

In both cases Dzhulay appeared as a subtle protest against the Communist regime. How subtle a protest it was is evident by the fact that the authorities didn't ban it.

As the popularity of the event grew, the sun revellers diversified and other subcultures joined the hippies. Inevitably, the hippies felt disillusioned. In the early 1990s they moved to an alternative place on the southern Black Sea coast, near the Varvara village, on the rocks by the so-called Iron Tree, an abandoned movie prop.

July Morning Bulgaria

For several years now meeting the rising sun on 1 July at Kamen Bryag is being paired with a rock concert


This didn't stop the mainstream-isation of the Dzhulay. The feast attracted more and more people and it gradually moved from Varna to a more picturesque place: the rocks at Kamen Bryag. In 2004, the rock music-loving, young and ambitious mayor of the nearby town of Kavarna, Tsonko Tsonev, invited John Lawton, Uriah Heep's frontman, to perform the band's emblematic (at least in Bulgaria) song during the sunrise. People were ecstatic. Lawton is now a fixture in the "official" celebrations of Dzhulay at Kamen Bryag. His name and the growing popularity of the event turned it into a kind of music festival, attracting a motley crew of rock and hard rock fans, hipsters and people who cannot tell Led Zeppelin from Creedence Clearwater Revival.

As all new traditions, Dzhulay still morphs, searching for its true self (the hippies claim that it has already lost that, sometime around 1992). A dedicated group of people, for example, celebrate not only July Morning on 1 July, but also July Evening on the sunset on 31 July. This tradition is yet to become popular, probably because it lacks a catchy song, or probably because drinking and waiting for a sunset is less fascinating than drinking the night until the sun comes.

Due to frictions between former mayor of Kavarna and his successor, in 2016 the "official" celebration of the Dzhulay will not be at Kamen Bryag. Instead, the event – John Lawton, mosquitoes and all – will be in Tutrakan, on the Danube.

For a number of people, the true spirit of the Dzhulay is not in the particular place. The sunrise, they claim, can be celebrated everywhere in the open, if the eastern horizon is clearly visible. You only need stamina, some booze and plenty of good company to go through the wee hours, until the sun rises. Playing July Morning is recommendable, but not obligatory.

July Morning Bulgaria

Participants take shelter by Ogancheto, or The Fire, a small natural gas leak at Kamen Bryag


July Morning Bulgaria

Sun salutation, Bulgarian style


July Morning Bulgaria

July Morning is being Instagrammed. The modern festival is now far from its hippy origins

America for Bulgaria FoundationHigh Beam is a series of articles, initiated by Vagabond Magazine, with the generous support of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, that aims to provide details and background of places, cultural entities, events, personalities and facts of life that are sometimes difficult to understand for the outsider in the Balkans. The ultimate aim is the preservation of Bulgaria's cultural heritage – including but not limited to archaeological, cultural and ethnic diversity. The statements and opinionsexpressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the America for Bulgaria Foundation and its partners.


    Commenting on www.vagabond.bg

    Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on www.vagabond.bg to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use www.vagabond.bg for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on www.vagabond.bg please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on www.vagabond.bg.

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

Her father's daughter who imposed her own mediocrity on Bulgaria's culture? Or a forbearing politician who revived interest in Bulgaria's past and placed the country on the world map? Or a quirky mystic? Or a benefactor to the arts?

In 1199, Pope Innocent III wrote a letter to Bulgarian King Kaloyan to offer an union.

The Rhodope mountains have an aura of an enchanted place no matter whether you visit in summer, autumn or winter. But in springtime there is something in the Bulgarian south that makes you feel more relaxed, almost above the ground.

There are many ways to categorise and promote Bulgaria's heritage: traditional towns and villages, Thracian rock sanctuaries, nature, sun and fun on the seaside, and so on and so forth.

Karlovo is one of those places where size does not equal importance.

Pavlikeni, a town in north-central Bulgaria, is hardly famous for its attractions, and yet this small, quiet place is the home of one of the most interesting ancient Roman sites in Bulgaria: a villa rustica, or a rural villa, with an incredibly well-preserv

How to celebrate like locals without getting lost in complex traditions

Small-town Bulgaria is a diverse place. Some of the towns are well known to tourists while others are largely neglected by outsiders.

Of the many villages in Bulgaria that can be labeled "a hidden treasure," few can compete with Matochina. Its old houses are scattered on the rolling hills of Bulgaria's southeast, overlooked by a mediaeval fortress.

Poet who lost an eye in the Great War, changed Bulgarian literature - and was assassinated for his beliefs

In previous times, when information signs of who had built what were yet to appear on buildings of interest, people liberally filled the gaps with their imagination.

If anything defines the modern Bulgarian landscape, it is the abundance of recent ruins left from the time when Communism collapsed and the free market filled the void left by planned economy.