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In Bulgaria, there is a tradition called July Morning which is believed to be an echo from the hippie era of the 1960–1980s. Although not universally observed in the country, it is unique as it is not observed anywhere else in the world.
Usually, in the days before 1st of July, people from across Bulgaria travel (often hitchhiking) to the Black Sea coast to meet the first sun rays on the first day of July. People gather around fires, play music and wait for the sunrise. There is no mandatory ritual, ceremony or rite for this tradition and it is up to participants' discretion how will they spend the night before July 1. On many locations, there are concerts with professional and amateur bands. Camping at the locations of choice for the July Morning celebration is also very popular.
Initially, celebrants gathered on Pier 1 in Port of Varna East; now the vigil takes place on beaches as well. In recent years, it has spread to Kamen Bryag, Kavarna, Shkorpilovtsi, Irakli, Burgas, Sozopol, Varvara, Ahtopol, Chernomorets as well as the whole Bulgarian Black Sea coast.
There were many attempts to commercialize the tradition by various parties – municipal authorities, concert promoters, etc. – trying to organize July Morning festivals and specials. All such attempts failed, possibly due to the lack of a single location of celebrations, or commercial organizations failing to condone some of the celebrations more questionable activities. Most recently, in 2012 some 12,000 people met the sunrise at Kamen Bryag where the song "July Morning" was performed by ex-Uriah Heep's singer John Lawton.
Meaning and significance
The name of the tradition comes from the British rock band Uriah Heep's 1971 hit "July Morning" which became widely popular in Bulgaria in the 1980s and somehow named and remained central to this unique Bulgarian tradition.
There are many versions of the meaning of the tradition. Most people consider July Morning a celebration of a new beginning and freedom in the spirit of the hippie movement. For others, it is a good reason for a late night/early morning party as July 1 is the first day of summer break for most high schools in Bulgaria and the unofficial start of the summer vacationing season, traditionally culminating with a trip to the Black Sea coast in July or August.
The various accounts on the beginnings of July Morning vary widely, mostly depending on the meaning that the teller puts into the tradition.
It is argued that the July Morning arose sometime in the 1980s among young people as a subtle protest against the Communist regime, although there are no records of any organised protests or other similar activities related to this date before the 1989 Fall of Communism. For obvious reasons, Bulgaria never had any form of a hippie culture although many young people felt attracted to some of the so-called hippie ideals from the 1960s, as communicated mainly through rock and pop music of the time. As a country behind the Iron Curtain, Bulgaria did not have a music market similar to the ones in the Western countries and it was not uncommon for albums and tracks by Western artists to become popular in the country years, sometimes decades, after their initial release. This seems to be the case with the Uriah Heep song "July Morning".
A personal account
"The year was 1980, the place – south beach in Varna, the participants – four or five people and the idea belonged to Violin Stankovich. In the autumn most of us were about to enter the army, and this was our last carefree summer. And we used it at full speed with little sleep and lots of shenanigans. It all happened by chance and without any preparation, just Villy said: Hey do you want to spend a night on the beach and watch the sunrise in the morning? We all said YES so it all began. Then we said it would be good to come each summer on this same day. From 1980 to 1983 we had no opportunity to see each other, because we were sent as soldiers to different parts of the country to guard it against "evil imperialists who only waited a convenient time to conquer and enslave us all". Next meeting on this occasion was 1984, then in 1985, again on the south beach in Varna. In 1986, the idea began to gain popularity and held its first event in Kamen Bryag. In recent years, a regular guest of the festival is John Lawton (Uriah Heep)." In 2015, John Lawton was joined on stage by Paul Newton who played bass guitar on the original Uriah Heep recording.
Nick Hunt, in his book Walking the Woods and the Water, repeats the story that in the early 1980s, the song was sung "as a subtle act of defiance against Soviet rule." Hunt was traveling by foot through Bulgaria at the beginning of July, and Bulgarians had been telling him about the festival, since he was from Great Britain, "and they seemed slightly shocked when I told them I didn't know the song". Hunt assumed at first that the festival was ancient, "perhaps pagan in origin[,]" and could not understand why Uriah Heep had written a song about a Bulgarian festival, but then was told by his "adash" (namesake) Nikolay that the song came first.