It's long overdue, but this blog update is dedicated to the photos of all the men in giant furry costumes that I posted on Facebook back in January. They are called "кукери" [Koo-kay-ri], or Mumers, and are part of an old tradition that is celebrated annually in Bulgaria. Although several festivals exist all over the Balkans, the Surva Festival in Pernik, Bulgaria is the largest of its kind in all of the Balkan Peninsula. This tradition has pagan roots and takes place as Winter begins to transition to Spring (between Christmas and Easter nowadays). The Kukeri are believed to scare away demons and impurities of winter to make way for a blessed and prosperous Spring. According to the Surva website, "The symbolic meaning of the winter and pre-spring rituals performed by single men is related to the end of the old year and the advent of the new and to the upcoming awakening of nature for new life. These rituals represent the wish for a rich harvest, health and fertility for humans and farm animals. They are intended to chase away the evil spirits and prepare people for a new beginning." Although tradition states that only single men participate in wearing the costumes, this rule has loosened over time. I saw several women and children in costume the day I attended the event.
The main attraction at the Pernik event is the costume parade. Even in snowy weather, spectators lined the streets for hours to watch 100s of folk groups pass in elaborate costumes. The parade ended at a central stage where each group had an opportunity to perform as part of a competition. If you're interested in learning more about the history of the festival or want to see more photos, you can check out the Surva Festival Website.