by Dimana Trankova; photography by Anthony Georgieff

Bulgarians greet sun on 1 July in celebration that is more hippy than pagan

dzhulaya bulgaria rising sun.jpg

How often do you hum, while driving or doing chores, Uriah Heep's song July Morning? Is it on your Spotify? The answers are probably "never" and "no." Uriah Heep was an English rock band that was formed in 1969, named after Charles Dickens's infamous character. It did make a name for itself in the 1970s, but remained largely unknown.

Not in this country, however. The band was one of the relatively few 1970s groups from the West that penetrated Communist Bulgaria and found an audience hungry for pop and alternative culture. While its fame in the West declined, it turned into a staple for Bulgarians.

As a result, something unforeseen happened: Uriah Heep's hit July Morning inspired a tradition unique to the country, Dzhulay or Dzhulaya. For about 40 years now, Bulgarians have gathered by the sea on the night of 30 June to drink, chat and listen to music with friends until they see the first rays of the sun emerging over the horizon. Then, they greet the sun with... July Morning, of course.

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

Who was the first celebrate Dzhulay, and when, is open to speculation . At least two theories circulate, being told and retold by self-proclaimed participants in the original event. What unites them is the location: the waterfront at 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 compulsory military service. Hippies to the bottom of their souls, they combined the symbolic beginning of their last "summer of freedom" with a song that seemed quite topical. In the following couple of years no celebrations were held, as most of those involved were in the army. The tradition was revived in 1984.

The second account is also connected with the Bulgarian army. During his military service, a hippie from Varna was on duty 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 loneliness, both physical and spiritual, the man promised himself that from now on nobody would have to be alone at sunrise on 1 July. After he was discharged, back in Varna, he introduced the idea to some friends who were enthusiastic. The year was 1985. The following 1 July, they replayed the event, and soon the word of 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 did not 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 village of Varvara, on the rocks by the so-called Iron Tree, an abandoned movie prop.

This did not stop the mainstream-isation of Dzhulay. The feast attracted more and more people and it gradually moved from Varna to a more picturesque place: the cliffs 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 became 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 with all new traditions, Dzhulay is still evolving.

Due to friction between the former mayor of Kavarna and his successor, in 2016 the "official" celebration of Dzhulay was moved to Tutrakan, on the Danube River. John Lawton performed there until 2018. In 2021, he died. The following year, his ashes were scattered at sea off Kamen Bryag.

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


    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

Squirrels and small children frequent unkempt alleys under towering oak and beech trees; а romantic wooden gazebo is often decorated with balloons forgotten after some openair birthday party; melancholic weeping willows hang over an empty artif

In 1965, Dimitar Kovachev, a biology teacher from the town of Asenovgrad, was on a field trip to Ezerovo village.

Bulgaria has its fair share of intriguing caves, from the Devil's Throat underground waterfall to Prohodna's eyes-like openings and the Magura's prehistoric rock art.

Owing to its geological history, the Rhodope mountain range – in contrast to the nearby Rila and Pirin – lacks any impressive Alpine-style lakes. However, where nature erred, man stepped in.

"We are fascists, we burn Arabs": the youngsters start chanting as soon as they emerge from the metro station and leave the perimeter of its security cameras.

The names of foreigners, mainly Russians, are common across the map of Sofia – from Alexandr Dondukov and Count Ignatieff to Alexey Tolstoy (a Communist-era Soviet writer not to be confused with Leo Tolstoy) who has a whole housing estate named after him.

Picturesque old houses lining a narrow river and tiny shops selling hand-made sweets, knives and fabrics: The Etara open air museum recreates a charming, idealised version of mid-19th century Bulgaria.

Christ was an alien. Or if He was not, then four centuries ago there were UFOs hovering over what is now southwestern Bulgaria.

Unlike other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, which removed, stashed away or demolished most remnants of their Communist past as early as the 1990s, Bulgaria is a curiosity.

Agroup of friends meet each summer at the seaside, a small community who know one another so well that boredom becomes inevitable, and so do internal conflicts. And death.

Descendants of millennia-old rites, the scary kukeri, or mummers, are the best known face of Bulgarian carnival tradition. Gabrovo's carnival is its modern face: fun, critical, and colourful.

Both high-end perfumes and more run-of-the-mill cosmetics would be impossible without a humble plant that thrives in a couple of pockets around the world, the oil-bearing rose. Bulgaria is one of these places.