(Saint Andrew's Day)
According to the calendar it is considered the beginning of the winter
holiday cycle and is connected with the belief that the day starts
to grow like a millet grain from this day on and the sun starts to move
like a chicken in an egg. It is celebrated in honour of the bear.
Corn, which is left in water over the night, is boiled in a
cauldron early in the morning on this day. When it is boiled it is
tossed up into the chimney and people say: "Bear, take that boiled corn
so that you will not eat the raw one, the cattle and the people!". They
also put in the cauldron a few grains from everything that is sown in
the field and in the garden: beans, lentils, millet, wheat, barley, oats
and etc. This is done so that everything that is sown grows big.
Andreevden (Saint Andrew, the First-Called) -
The Name day of everyone named Andrey, Andriana (the name has
the meaning “masculine”, therefore “strong”).
Bulgarians call it “Bear’s Day”. And legends tell that: Once upon a
time, long time ago, in a family with a small daughter the woman died.
The father remarried a woman who also had a daughter. But the
step-mother loved her child more and made the step-child do all the
housework. And she was never satisfied. Once, when it was very cold,
she gave the step-child black wool and told her to wash it till it
becomes white. “Or else, don’t return home!”, said the step-mother.
The small girl put the wool on her
shoulder and went to the river. She
began washing but… the black wool never became white. Frozen all over,
the child sat on the bank and cried. Immediately an old man with a
white beard appeared in front of her. “Why are you crying, child?”,
asked the old man gently. The girl told him everything and the good
man said: “Put the wool on your shoulder, go back home and don’t be
afraid.” Then suddenly he disappeared.
The child went home, knocked on the closed door for a while and
when the evil step-mother opened the door she was struck – in front of
her a golden girl was standing and shining like the sun itself. She
became even more angry when she understood how the child turned golden
and decided to send her own child as well, so it becomes golden too.
She dressed it well, gave it wool and sent it to the river. The little
girl quickly reached the river, threw away the wool for she had no
intention to wash it and sat on the bank. She waited and waited but
nobody came. She was all frozen and started crying. In a moment the
man with the white beard appeared. “Why are you crying, child?”, the
old man asked. “I’m waiting for you, old man,” the girl answered in a
rude voice, “I want you to make me gold and go back home.” “All right,
my girl, put the wool on your shoulder and go back home,” the old man
said and disappeared. The girl grabbed the wool and ran home. The
step-mother, on hearing her steps, quickly opened the door but closed
it on the moment, for in front of her was standing a big black bear.
The old man punished the evil step-mother by turning her child into a
From that day on, people tell stories about bears. With the
first rays of the sun the oldest woman in the house takes boiled corn
with a wooden spoon, throws the beans into the chimney and says: “Here
is boiled corn for you, bear, - so don't eat it raw!” And people
believe that “bears won’t walk in the fields and won’t do harm to the
people”. From Saint Andrew’s Day on, the day begins to grow, “by as
much as a grain of rye”. The womenfolk bake the Andreevden ritual
The Holy Apostle Andrew, the First-Called, was the first of
the Apostles to follow Christ, and he later brought his own brother,
the holy Apostle Peter, to Christ. The future apostle was from
Bethsaida, and from the time of his youth he turned with all his soul
to God. He did not enter into marriage, and together with his brother
he worked as a fisherman. When the holy Prophet, Forerunner and
Baptist John began to preach, Saint Andrew became his closest
disciple. Saint John the Baptist himself sent to Christ his own two
disciples, the future Apostles Andrew and John the Theologian,
declaring Christ to be the Lamb of God.
After the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, Saint
Andrew went to the Eastern lands preaching the Word of God. He went
through Asia Minor, Thrace, Macedonia, he reached the River Danube,
went along the coast of the Black Sea, through Crimea, the Black Sea
region and along the River Dnepr he climbed to the place where the
city of Kiev now stands.
On his journeys the First-Called Apostle endured many sufferings and
torments from pagans: they cast him out of their cities and they beat
him. In Sinope they pelted him with stones, but remaining unharmed,
the persistent disciple of Christ continued to preach to people about
the Savoir. Through the prayers of the Apostle, the Lord worked
miracles. By the labours of the holy Apostle Andrew, Christian
Churches were established, for which he provided bishops and clergy.
The final city to which the Apostle came was the city of Patra, where
he was destined to suffer martyrdom.
The Lord worked many miracles through His disciple Andrew in
Patra. The infirm were made whole, and the blind received their sight.
Through the prayers of the Apostle, one man was recovered from serious
illness; he healed the wife of the governor of Patra, and his brother
as well. The miracles accomplished by the Apostle and his fiery speech
enlightened almost all the citizens of the city of Patra with the true
The Governor was mad with Andrew’s popularity and
sentenced him to death. Saint Andrew the First-Called accepted that
sentence with joy and with prayer to the Lord, and went willingly to
the place of execution. In order to prolong the suffering of the
saint, the governor gave orders not to nail the saint's hands and
feet, but to tie them to the cross (the so-called "Saint Andrew's
cross", in the form of the letter X). For two days the suffering
apostle was teaching and preaching to the citizens who gathered about.
The people, in listening to him, with all their souls pitied him and
tried to take Saint Andrew down from the cross. Fearing a riot of the
people, the governor gave orders to stop the execution. But the holy
apostle began to pray that the Lord would grant him death on the
cross. Just as the soldiers tried to take hold of the Apostle Andrew,
they lost control of their hands.
The crucified apostle, having given glory to God, said:
"Lord Jesus Christ, receive my spirit." Then a blazing ray of divine
light illumined the cross and the martyr crucified upon it. When the
light faded, the holy Apostle Andrew had already given up his holy
soul to the Lord. The governor’s wife, whom Andrew himself converted
to Christianity, had the body of the saint taken down from the cross,
and buried him with honour.
A few centuries later, under the emperor Constantine
the Great, the relics of the holy Apostle Andrew were solemnly
transferred to Constantinople, and placed in the church of the Holy
Apostles, beside the relics of the holy Evangelist Luke and Saint
Paul's disciple, Saint Timothy.
Bear’s Day (Saint Andrew’s Day) and the
man-animal in Bulgarian folk tales.
Bear in Varna Zoo
feast of Saint Andrew’s day is also observed as Bear’s day in
Bulgarian folklore tradition. Folk myth has it that Saint Andrew once
tamed a bear hence the
coinciding of the two holidays. Bear’s day is
also connected to ancient mythology. Bears have played a prominent
role in folk stories, beliefs, and sayings.
In times, when people knew bears not from the zoo but from actual
unanticipated encounters in the mountains, their attitude to those
giants of the woods was quite ambiguous. А bear’s size and strength
kept people on the alert even in the period of its winter sleep. Hence
the saying “The bear is sleeping, its ears are pricked” meaning that
the bear is not fully asleep even while hibernating. To overcome fear
man brags with his sense of supremacy. This is evident in another
saying too – ‘the bear is afraid but I am
not’ – that Bulgarians have
used till date to encourage themselves in perilous situations. Man’s
daring to wrestle with a bear has been ridiculed in a folklore
anecdote. A young village lad tells the story of how his father
subdued a bear. One day, father and son went to a nearby village to
attend a feast. On eating an entire ox and drinking a barrelful of
wine, the father, full and excited, started bragging that if there
were a bear around at that moment he would defeat it. On the way back
to the village, a bear emerged out of the woods. Father and bear began
wrestling. When the son saw what was going on, he got so scared he ran
home. Only the next day did he return to see what had happened. All he
were the laces of his father and no trace of the bear. This is
how the anecdote ridicules the fake victory of the father over the
bear and the meaningless bragging of the son. Another proverb says
that “a bear will never part with its skin” meaning that a strong man
will not give up easily.
Folk stories have preserved an ancient reverence
to the bear. There is a folk tale in which a he-bear married no other
than the king’s daughter herself. Their son inherited something of
both parents and had quite an uncustomary looks – the head of a man
and the body of a bear. They combine a bear’s strength and a man’s
wits. Thanks to this, their son succeeds in overcoming a lot of
obstacles and at the end he becomes a king.
In folk tales the opposite version also exists – when a lad marries a
she-bear. Probably that was where the saying “It is raining, the sun
is shining – the bear is getting married” sprang from.
On Bear’s day, peasants feed the bear with boiled corn.
They also tend to liken it to a human when it is standing erect on two
legs and compare its paws to human palms. Moreover, in Bulgarian
folklore, the bear has always been a symbol of motherhood and
fertility. In the past, at her wedding the bride would dance a
chain-dance dressed as a she-bear. That custom expressed the wish for
bride’s fertility. Another very popular image of the bear from folk
tales is of the good-hearted and naďve grandmother bear. Hence another
anecdote – the bear was boasting that soon there would be lots of
cornel-cherries in the woods. When people asked how it knows that, the
bear told them that it was because it felt like eating
cornel-cherries. This anecdote ridicules the illusion that desire
brings about something real. Bears are also seen as clumsy and
awkward. An example of this is the expression “a bear’s favour”
meaning that somebody may have had a good intention to help but at the
end they did more harm than good.
Wild Bears in Bulgaria
About 800 brown bears still live in Bulgaria's mountain forests.
According to Bulgarian mythology the bear was once a woman.
Traditionally "Baba Metza"
(Grandmother Bear) was a sacred animal
and killing it was taboo. Bears go into a state
hibernation during winter, giving birth soon afterwards, associating
them mythological-wise with the seasonal cycle, the earth's fertility
and the return of spring.
The practice of keeping dancing bears (common throughout the Balkans
and in other countries) runs contrary to this tradition of respect.
Captured in the wild as cubs and trained through cruel methods, the
bears could still be seen in many tourist locations up until a couple
of years ago. Muzzled and with a ring through their nose, they moved
on their hind legs to music played by their masters, usually on a
gudoulka (Bulgarian upright fiddle).
Dancing bears have provided the livelihood for many poor Roma families
for generations in the Balkans. Now dancing bears have almost disappeared from the streets
after a sustained international campaign and a changing political
climate in which such treatment has become unacceptable. The bears in
the photos did perform for tourists in Bourgas and Varna in 2006.
Bears are now protected under Bulgarian law and there
are measures in place to safeguard the wellbeing of captive bears. A
bear sanctuary called Four Paws has been established in Belitsa in the
Pirin Mountains where 20 former dancing bears will live out the rest
of their years in natural surroundings. Four Paws pays out
compensation to former bear trainers who hand over their animals, to
help alleviate the resulting loss of income while they find
Bears in Varna City. The Roma complain they can no longer beg for
money without their bears.
Belitsa is the
biggest of Four Paws sanctuaries. It attracts hundreds of visitors
every year. The sanctuary is near the town of Belitsa
in South West Bulgaria. It is located in the Rila mountain range
about 170 km south-east of Sofia and covers over 120,000 square
Meet some of
the bears that
has already freed:
Fur: dark brown
Favourite food: grapes
since: Summer 2001
Bobby is a quiet and friendly bear and gets on well with all the
other bears in the park. His best friend is Stefan and these two
sometimes play wildly together. Bobby enjoys bathing in the ponds
and relaxing in his enclosure. He has gained a lot of weight since
he was transferred to Belitsa
and is now enjoying good health.
Fur: dark brown
Favourite food: fruit
since: May 2004
Charlie prefers his own company and is a calm and lazy bear. He
enjoys sleeping in the forested sections of his enclosure. He has
gained lots of weight since he was transferred to
Fur: nearly black
Favourite food: grapes and
since: November 2003
Despite being one of the largest female bears in the park, Dana
still likes to climb trees. When she is hungry she lays on her back.
She feels comfortable in her surroundings, and is a quiet and
Fur: dark brown
Favourite food: melon
since: November 2003
Even though Dobri is blind, he enjoys wandering around in
his area, looking for food, laying under the trees and sleeping
lots. He spends his nights in the caves. Dobri shares an enclosure
November 2003 FOUR PAWS set out for Yagoda, Eastern Bulgaria to
rescue Dobri who had suffered as a dancing bear for 17 years. When
we found Dobri he was blind and was in very poor
He had several rings in his nose and was chained to a tree. His
chain was only a metre long and hardly allowed him to move. We were
also disgusted to learn that Dobri was only bread and sugar to eat.
When his owner needed to sedate him he was given alcohol.
We transported Dobri to our sanctuary in Belitsa and operated
to remove the many rings in his nose. Dobri quickly recovered and
gained lots of weight under the care of our team of keepers and by
the winter of 2003 had gained sufficient weight to hibernate in a
cave for the first time of his life. The picture shows Dobri is now
The following autumn an international team of vets gave him a
thorough medical check-up but discovered that his blindness was
in-operable. However, they also treated his teeth which were full of
cavities after a high sugar diet.
Fur: light brown
Favourite food: carrots
since: April 2006
Elena is a small and playful bear. She was very curious even when
she was first released into her enclosure. She enjoys walking around
and doesn't want to miss anything.
Favourite food: Gosho
loves all food, especially nuts
since: June 2001
Gosho lives with Mariana, and they understand and get along with
each other very well. Gosho has gained approximately 50 kg since he
was adopted by FOUR PAWS, and he is currently in the best of health.
He is the largest member of the DANCING BEARS PARK
Belitsa, and he
enjoys swimming in the ponds in the area. In the warmer seasons this
large bear likes sleeping in the forest shade and lying down on his
Favourite food: Izaura loves all food!
since: February 2004
Izaura is one of the oldest bears in the DANCING BEARS PARK
She enjoys walking around her enclosure and foraging for food.
Izaura enjoys spending her time alone.
Favourite food: Grapes and bread
since: September 2000
Kalinka is a quiet and peaceful bear. She likes climbing trees and
wandering around but when the weather is nice she loves to sunbathe.
Unlike many of the other bears she doesn't particularly enjoy
swimming. Since her adoption by FOUR PAWS she has gained a lot of
weight and is in good health.
Fur: light brown
Favourite food: bread
since: November 2003
Leta is the smallest bear living in
Belitsa. She gets along well with
Bobby, Stefan, and Kalinka. Leta enjoys wandering around in the sun
near the ponds.
since: June 2005
Maria adapted very quickly to her new life in the park and gets on
well with Galya, the bear who is living in the enclosure beside her.
She enjoys sleeping in the woods.
Favourite food: bread, nuts, and grapes
since: October 2000
Mariana lives with Gosho, with whom she seems to feel safe and
protected. Mariana is curious and likes swimming in ponds.
Favourite food: carrots
since: April 2005
Marinka adapted very quickly to the new surroundings in her
enclosure at the bear park, getting along with the other bears
easily. Unlike many other bears, Marinka prefers open fields and
grassland to wooded areas and scrubland.
Favourite Food: Mitko likes his food a lot and eats
everything he's offered.
since: October 2004
Mitko was abused by his former owner and had several rings in his
nose. He also had rings in his jaw and a hole which had to be
operated on. Now Mitko lives in his own part of the section of the
park and prefers little contact with the other bears. After being
adopted by FOUR PAWS and transferred to the park he is enjoying his
new life. He is a very curious and active bear however when the
weather is bad he likes to go into his den.
Favourite Food: Grapes and Nuts
since: November 2003
Nadka is a beautiful bear with gorgeous fur and a unique
build. She loves to wander around the enclosure searching for food.
Nadka is a loner, and doesn't get along very well with the other
bears at the park.
Favourite Food: carrots
since: June 2006
During Rada's early days at the park she showed repetitive
dancing behaviour. However, as time has passed she became calmer and
enjoys her new life in the park, swimming in the pool and spending
hot summer days in the dense forest.
Rada's story - The
fourteen year old dancing bear, Rada was taken from Knezha Zoo in
Bulgaria when she was a cub. Her owner trained her to ‘dance’ using
cruel methods. For example she was forced to stand on a hot metal
plate (whilst listening to music) which made her lift her paws up to
learn the ‘dancing’ steps. She learned to obey the owners’ commands
whilst being chained through the nose. It is well known that using a
nose ring in bears causes terrible pain.
In the following years Rada was made to dance for the entertainment
of the people at festivals, parties and in the streets of Bulgaria
When FOUR PAWS heard about Rada we were horrified and
arranged to visit her. She was chained down in the backyard of her
owner with very little space. She was suffering with little poor
quality food with only a damaged roof to protect her from harsh
On the 3rd June 2006 FOUR PAWS relocated Rada to
Belitsa. She was transported to the park without the need to be
During Rada's early days at the park she showed
repetitive dancing behaviour. However, as time has passed she has
become calmer and enjoys her new life in the park, swimming in the
pool and spending hot summer days in the dense forest. The caves in
her enclosure have made it possible for her to hibernate for the
first time in her life
Fur: dark brown
Favourite Food: Mitko likes his food a lot and eats everything he's
since: September 2000
Stefan gets along well with Bobby, they like playing together
and swimming in the ponds. Stefan is one of the biggest bears in
DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa
and has a very large appetite.
Favourite food: Apples and grapes
since: November 2003
Stefka is a quiet, lazy, peaceful bear, who gets along with
all the other bears.
Fur: light brown with a few flecks on her back
Favourite food: Melon
since: February 2004
Tsveta loves to wander around the area, especially when the
sun is shining. She gets along very well with the other bears in the
park, but she prefers to eat alone.
Fur: almost black
Favourite food: Bread
In Belitsa since: September 2005
Vela was born in Russia (hence the
almost black fur and large size). When she was a cub she was
transferred to Bulgaria.
Favourite food: Grapes, bread, and nuts
since: November 2003
Violeta has some hairless spots because of a skin disease
which was a result of long-term abuse and underfeeding. However, we
are really pleased to see that her health and her fur have improved
immensely since she was adopted by FOUR PAWS.
Sanctuary opening hours:
April - May: 10.00 am- 6.00 pm
June - September: 10.00 am- 8.00 pm
October - November: 10.00 am- 4.00 pm
December - March: no tours as the bears are hibernating.
NEWS UPDATE 09-12-08
First EU Country to Sign a Contract for Humane Animal Treatment.
Bulgaria becomes on Tuesday the first European Union (EU) country to
officially sign a contract for the humane treatment of animals.
The Bulgarian Agriculture Minister Valery Tsvetanov and the
President of the international "FOUR PAWS" Foundation, Helmut
Dungler are signing a contract for collaboration between the
Agriculture Ministry and the non-governmental organization to assure
humane treatment of animals in the country.
The "FOUR PAWS" Foundation is consistently and
successfully helping mistreated animals across Europe. The
Foundation is best known in Bulgaria for the establishment and
maintenance of the Dancing Bears Park near the town of Belitsa.
Although the ownership of dancing bears is forbidden, many dancing
bears are registered throughout the country.
The bears are tamed by the cruel method of training cubs to
dance on hot metal plates. The animals jump around in pain, while
the same music is playing over and over again. When they hear the
music, they "learn" to "dance" immediately because they fear the
unbearable pains, caused by the hot metal.
FOUR PAWS started the struggle against the torment of bears in
Bulgaria in May of 1999. The first three brown bears arrived a month
later while the park was officially opened on 17th of November 2000.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry gave to
Belitsa Municipality 8.6 hectares to be used by FOUR PAWS for its
ambitious project. The organization invested in its own land too.
The total area of the park is now 12 hectares.
Other "FOUR PAWS" projects in Bulgaria
include systematic campaigns for the neutering of stray animals.
NEWS UPDATE 01-02-09
The "FOUR PAWS"
Foundation had successfully transported the last three registered
dancing bears from Serbia to the Bulgarian "Dancing Bears" refuge
and park in Belitsa, the Foundation reported. In 2007, all
registered dancing bears in Bulgaria were relocated to the park and
the Foundation focused their efforts to save abused animals in
neighbouring Balkan countries.
The three newest residents of the Belitsa park are named Seyda,
Milena and Natasha. In addition to being housed in their own sector
of the park, the three bears have a special feeding program and
would be monitored constantly. Milena's condition is reported as
being the worst since she is completely blind, very old and week.
"Milena only has several months to live. Despite that, all efforts
to bring her hear and take care of her are well merited because this
poor animal would be now able to spend her last days in freedom,"
Vassil Madokev, leader of the caretakers team said.
By Toni Maskrachka. 24 APRIL 2010. waz.euobserver.com
Twenty-seven retired dancing bears from Bulgaria and Serbia are
slowly returning to their natural way of life in the wild in a
readjustment park near the south-western town of Belitsa on the
outskirts of the Rila Mountain in Bulgaria.
The ten year-old project, which is unique for Eastern Europe,
was inspired by former French movie star-turned animal protection
activist Brigitte Bardot and the Four Paws wild life foundation. It
hosts 24 former dancing bears from Bulgaria and 3 from Serbia.
"This winter there was only one bear that did not go into
hibernation, the rest did. This is a sort of record and a serious
indication that the animals are gradually resuming their habits and
adjusting to life in the wild, a proof that the park offers a
natural living environment", park employee Vasil Madolev said.
Most of the quadrupeds dug lairs in the woods themselves and
did not resort to the artificial ones that the workers had prepared
for them. A couple of days ago, with the weather getting warmer,
they began to wake up. The greatest sleeper was Vela who slept for
For years the animals' owners had used them to
entertain tourists in cities and resorts. The mouths of all bears
are damaged with holes pierced in their lips to hold chains and
metal rings that were used to bind them. The park team is now
focusing mostly on healing wounds on their snouts and treating their
"The constant trauma that they have lived with for years has
changed the structure of their throats and it has been difficult for
them to eat and drink," Mr Madolev said.
He added that some bears are totally blind
because of the alcohol former owners gave them. Two of the beasts
have had their eyes gouged out so that they would be easier to
"A medical team is treating the animals so that they
adjust well to the environment," park manager Dimitar Ivanov said.
In May, all bears are due for an annual health check.
As part of it, they will see German dentist Dr. Mark Luse and the
team of his Bulgarian colleague Bogdan Aminkov.
An ophthalmologist will also be called in to examine
the blind animals and assess if at least a part of their vision can
be restored by an operation.
While under anaesthesia, they will also receive antiparasitic
medication, be examined for body injuries, have their pulse and
blood pressure measured and blood samples taken. Every bear has a
personal medical record.
After the hibernation, during which bears lose up to 30
percent of the body weight, park wardens start to gradually feed
them. "We start with a daily ration of 5-6 kilograms of fruit,
vegetables and bread. The weaker ones are also given honey to
strengthen them. We include chicken or fish in their menu once a
week," Mr Ivanov said.
So far, the food has been scattered around a
conspicuous place, but from this spring the caretakers will hide it
under trunks and in hollows so the bears search for it like they
would do in the wild.
They roam in a fenced area of 120,000 square meters, 12
kilometres from Belitsa and around 180 kilometres south west of
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