The brides in Ribnovo don't fit the pearls-and-lace stereotype. They don't wear white dresses, but rather colourful shalvari, or Turkish-style baggy trousers. Their veils are red. And you'd never know if they're blushing, as their faces are covered with a thick layer of white cream and dotted with sequins to create brilliant figures.

This unusual make-up almost disguises the fact that the bride's eyes are closed – she'll only open them when the hodzha, or imam, blesses the marriage.

Like much of the region's population, the village's nearly 3,000 inhabitants are pomaks, or Slavs who converted to Islam during the Ottoman rule. However, only in Ribnovo traditional weddings are done in almost the same way as that used by their grandparents.

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In most other places, the old rites have disappeared, suppressed by the Communist rule, which banned religious weddings.

For people from Ribnovo much more important than their religion than nationality. And they identify themselves not so much with any ethnic group, but with representatives of their religion. In the village of 10 priests and 2 temple for 3000 residents.

In winter, however, all the workers come home to enjoy the three-day-long wedding celebrations. Families spend years saving money and preparing dowries. Surprisingly as it may seem, in Ribnovo a bride's trousseau is still an important thing, and on the first day of the wedding it is displayed for the whole community to see.

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Locals gather on the village square and dance a horo, led by an orchestra and a member of the wedding party carrying a blue banner – a symbol of hospitality.

While the guests are dancing, female relatives of the gelina, or bride in Ribnovo dialect, proudly display her entire dowry outside on huge wooden racks stretching down the length of the street in front of her home. From carpets to runners, blankets to nightgowns, and tablecloths to aprons, everything the bride will take to her future husband's family is on display. Inside the girl's home are exhibited furniture and household appliances.

Almost all villagers come to see this exhibition, small yards in the days of the wedding turn into a kind of showrooms.


Then the bride and groom perform a traditional dance in the central square, most of the young villagers join them.

On the second day, the roles are reversed: The young man's relatives take to the streets leading a specially dyed ram with apples impaled on its horns, and form an orderly procession complete with three-metre, or 10-foot, long bayratsi, or banners. Hanging from these T-shaped objects are all the gifts the groom will present to his future wife and her family.

On the third day of the wedding, women at the bride's home cover the girl's face with a thick layer of facial cream. Then they stick sequins into the cream and cover the bride with a red veil.

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Holding a mirror in her hands, the girl closes her eyes and steps across the threshold of her father's house to take the hand of her future husband.

The mother of the bride and her grandmother lead a young woman, dressed in a bright corset and baggy pants, to the waiting guests. The bride is forbidden to open his eyes until the priest blesses the young couple. It is difficult to say when exactly this tradition appeared. Villagers face more difficulties than most Muslims in Bulgaria.

The local version of a honeymoon is the one tradition that newlyweds in Ribnovo show no signs of abandoning. In the first three days after the wedding the couple is not allowed to leave their home; only close friends and relatives can visit them.

Perhaps Ribnovo residents introduced this tradition to give even the most clueless young husband plenty of time to figure out a thing or two about romance.

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