| ||ACTIVITIES and EVENTS|
Skiing is well-established in Bulgaria, with the season running from December to April. Mt Vitosha, on the southern outskirts of Sofia, is the most accessible of Bulgaria's ski areas; but the largest resort is at Borovets, 70km (43mi) south of Sofia, which has the highest mountains in the Balkans as a backdrop. Pamporovo in the Rodopi Mountains is popular with package tourists and Bansko in the Pirin Mountains is Bulgaria's least commercialised ski resort. Mountain climbing is feasible and you don't have to be Edmund Hillary to scale Musala Peak. There are less strenuous hiking and caving possibilities in the Stara Planina range and in the Rodopi Mountains. Watersports and horseriding are also popular leisure activities among Bulgarians.
Public holidays include New Year (1 and 2 January), Liberation Day (3 March), Cyrillic Alphabet Day (24 May) and Christmas (25 and 26 December). The reason for the two Christmas days is that religious Bulgarians were forbidden to practise during the Communist era, so they invented a secular - and suspiciously Christmas-like - celebration on the following day. Since the collapse of Communism, the original Christmas Day has been celebrated as before, but the invented holiday has been sensibly retained. Bulgarians observe a number of traditional customs. Trifon Zarezan on 14 February is the ancient festival of the wine growers. Vines are pruned and sprinkled with wine to ensure a bounteous harvest. On 1 March Bulgarians give one another martenitsi, red and white tasselled threads which are worn for health and happiness at the coming of spring. When wearers see their first stork of the season, the martenitsa is tied to the nearest tree.
At the Koprivshtitsa International Folk Festival, which is held every five years, some 4000 finalists compete for awards. There is a biennial festival in Pernik at which participants, wearing traditional masks and costumes, perform ancient dances to drive away evil spirits and ask the good spirits for a plentiful harvest. Kukeri is another spring festival, most avidly celebrated in the Rodopi Mountains. The Festival of Roses is celebrated with folk songs and dances at Kazanlâk and Karlovo on the first Sunday in June.
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