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September 24, 2017

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Bulgarian minority honors age-old wedding rites

RIBNOVO, Bulgaria -- The communists tried hard to stamp out the culture of Bulgaria's rural Pomak minority, and since then tough times in the European Union's poorest country have made many leave, but one village is keeping traditions alive.

Nestled in the southern snow-capped Rhodope Mountains, each winter Ribnovo rolls back the centuries for workers returning from construction and farming jobs in Germany, Britain or Israel to tie the knot in extraordinary Muslim weddings.

For happy couple Letve Osmanova and Refat Avdikov, both 21, their two-day nuptials start with a display of the bride's dowry — everything from socks and a washing machine to the marriage bed — on the street for all to admire.

The main part comes on day two when away from prying male eyes, two aunts ritually slap a thick layer of white face paint onto Letve's face, then stick on hundreds of colorful sequins to form flowers.

A red veil and streaks of shiny tinsel garlands frame the bride's painted face, rendering her unrecognizable and more like a doll than a woman.

She is then led through the village home in a merry procession accompanied by traditional music and presented to her husband-to-be, her brightly colored attire contrasting with his more "European" get-up of white suit and black shirt.

Alcohol, however, is forbidden.

And in this closed Pomak society — whose Christian ancestors were converted to Islam during Bulgaria's Ottoman rule from the 14th to 19th centuries — the young couple were also not allowed any public show of tenderness before the wedding.

Not only that, the bride also keeps her eyes closed throughout the proceedings.

She is allowed only to peek at a small hand mirror until an imam marries the couple.

Then Refat takes her home and washes her face with milk, the groom's uncle Mustafa Avdikov explained.

"I am proud of our tradition that is so rare," a smiling Letve said ahead of the ceremony, a winter feast for the proud village of some 3,500 inhabitants.

Communist Repression

Bulgaria's communists, ruling from after World War II until 1989, were hostile to any religion including the mainstream Orthodox Church.

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