Last weekend Vince and I drove about 40 minutes outside of Sofia to the nearby town of Pernik.
Each year the city plays host to the largest Surva Festival in not only Bulgaria but all of Eastern Europe (according to the event’s website). Kukeri/Mummer groups from all over Europe attend the event and parade through the city center in their costumes and masks before performing a short routine before a panel of judges.
Not being Eastern European, the whole Kukeri and mummers concept is quite foreign to me. So rather than try and explain it any better myself, I’ll let Wikipedia give it a go:
Kukeri is a traditional Bulgarian ritual to scare away evil spirits, with costumed men performing the ritual. Closely related traditions are found throughout the Balkans and Greece (including Romania and the Pontus). The costumes cover most of the body and include decorated wooden masks of animals (sometimes double-faced) and large bells attached to the belt. Around New Year and before Lent, the kukeri walk and dance through the village to scare evil spirits away with the costumes and the sound of the bells, as well as to provide a good harvest, health, and happiness to the village during the year.
The kukeri traditionally visit the peoples’ houses at night so that “the sun would not catch them on the road.” After going around the village they gather at the square to dance wildly and amuse the people. The ritual varies by region but its essence remains largely the same.
I think the fact that nothing even remotely similar to this (at least in my experience) exists in the United States is why I am so utterly fascinated by it and why I so enjoy attending these types of festivals.
I attended my first Kukeri Festival last year in Shiroka Laka, my favorite little Bulgarian village, and absolutely loved it. The post that I put up caught the attention of the Mayor of Shiroka Laka and recently I was contacted by their travel bureau and invited to come back again this year, meet the mayor, and stay the weekend in one of the village’s resorts.
Their website put up a small piece on me, Vince, and my blog. If you speak Bulgarian, feel free to give it a read. Be warned, however, from what Vince tells me, the writing makes no sense and even though we asked to see what they were writing before it went up and corrected a whole slew of incorrect statements, the post still says I came to Bulgaria in the Peace Corps and other odd things.
Oh well! It’s still flattering (mostly).
Overall, I enjoyed the festival in Pernik but I prefer Shiroka Laka’s. Pernik’s is crowded and it’s nearly impossible to find a spot where you can see everything. Shiroka Laka’s festival just seems more inviting and authentic. I can’t wait to head back next month!
*Edit: Forgot to add one of the videos we shot of the event. Not the greatest quality, but it gives you an idea of what it’s all about!
Another kukeri post to come in March!
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P.S. This is my 400th post on GMB! Huzzah! Here’s to many more!