Nestinarstvo is ancient Bulgarian ritual originally performed in several Bulgarian and Greek-speaking villages in the Strandzha Mountains. It is a unique mixture of Eastern Orthodox beliefs and older pagan traditions from the region. The ritual involves barefoot dancing on smoldering embers. One of the center of the traditional Nestinarstvo is village of Balgari.
The ritual is usually performed on St. Constantine and Helena on 21 May (or on the village’s patron saint). The icons of St. Konstantin and Elena are taken out of a chapel with the accompaniment of a drum and a bagpipe. Fire dancers (nestinari), go around the local church three times and after that they start dancing on the embers. It is popularly thought that some of the dancers reach a religious state of trance while dancing, explaining why their feet don’t burn and they allegedly don’t feel pain.
Nowadays the ritual became largely commercialized and is performed for the foreign tourists all over the seaside resorts of the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast by people who have little to do with the original tradition.
Traditionally, the right to perform the ritual would be hereditary and the head nestinar may be succeeded only by his or her son or daughter, and only when he or she is too old or ill to continue performing it. A few Bulgarians still perform the original ritual in its more authentic form in several Strandja villages and especially village of Bulgari. The Fire dancing ritual Nestinarstvo has been declared officially by UNESCO for World Non-material Cultural heritage.