The Romani people, who constitute one of Bulgaria’s largest ethnic minorities, have a unique marriage tradition – a ‘bride market’. Held four times a year on various religious holidays, the market is a chance for poor families in the community to arrange financially beneficial marriages for their children.
The families that gather in the city of Stara Zagora for the festival are part of a gypsy community of 18,000 Roma known as Kalaidzhi. They are traditionally coppersmiths, and among the most poverty-stricken people in the nation. The bride market is a chance for these families to get together, catch up on gossip, and arrange matches for their adolescent children. The event is a colorful one, with grannies dressed in traditional Kalaydzhii long skirts, and children running about and eating candyfloss.
The prospective brides are usually dressed provocatively in mini skirts, with gobs of mascara, flashy jewellery and towering heels. They dance alongside their male suitors on car hoods, which is quite rare in a community that generally does not allow youths to mingle with the opposite sex. In fact, the Kalaidzhi, who are devout Christians, take girls out of school at age 15 to keep them away from temptation.