Saturday, February 2, 2013


Waiting on the street.
One of Bulgaria's more interesting traditions is the kukeri ritual, in which people dress in animal costumes to scare away evil spirits.  The ritual takes place early in the new year.  The costumes can be quite elaborate, and usually involve fur-covered clothing, an animal mask (which is sometimes very large), and bells.  Lots of bells.  The kukeri walk through the village dancing and making noise to accomplish their goal.

A Palestinian group performs.
Kukeri festivals have been taking place in larger cities all over Bulgaria for the past few weeks.  This weekend was the largest, the International Masquerade Festival "Surva" in Pernik.  Friends from the embassy here invited me along to the festival, and we made the short trip to Pernik this morning.  It was quite an amazing spectacle.  The masquerade groups line up down the main street, and one by one they enter the main square to perform in front of the judges' platform.  Each group dances in rhythm, jangling their many bells, usually to drums and sometimes other instruments.  While they wait for their turn down the street, the other groups tend to break into rhythmic jumping every so often - I suppose to stay loose and keep their bells in tune.  The edges of the streets are lined with people several rows deep.  Vendors sell grilled meat, fried doughnuts, rakia, beer, pottery, balloons, miniature kukeri, and all sorts of other items.  Since this was an international festival, there were groups from other countries and in a wide variety of costumes.  There were people of all ages.  There were horns and antlers.  There was fake, or maybe real, blood.  There  were cigarettes.  And lots and lots of bells.

I'm really glad I had the chance to experience this.  It was kind of like being in a really lively overnight town on RAGBRAI and having Team Furry Animal Mask take over the area in front of the main stage.

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