INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF THE MASQUERADE GAMES
SURVA – KUKERI FESTIVAL
In ancient Bulgaria, wearing masks was believed to provide protection from evil, ensure a successful harvest, and guarantee health and fertility for humans and farm animals. Many of these pagan rituals, which were later incorporated into Christianity, are still performed in eastern Bulgaria between the holidays of Christmas and Easter. Rituals held around the New Year are known as Surva, while those performed around Easter are known as Kukeri. Today the International Festival of the Masquerade Games, held in the town of Pernik, still celebrates these customs. During the festival, which is the biggest event on the Balkan Peninsula, single men and women called Kukeri and Survakari, don traditional Bulgarian costumes and elaborate masks and parade down the streets of Pernik.
The festival’s mystery
On average, around 6,000 people (about 100 groups) from every folklore region of Bulgaria, as well as companies from Europe, Asia, and Africa take part in the contest. The contestants come here to win, to experience the atmosphere, to have fun and be part of the magic. For three whole days they sing and perform a series of intricate dance steps, ringing bells as they wind through the streets. Participants interact freely with the audience along the parade routes and on stages set up throughout the town. People often want to touch the masks for good luck and good health. An incandescent fiery spectacle, bonfires and light shows, envelop participants in the festival’s mystery.
Many legends date back to the 7th centuries the First Bulgarian Empire, however other tales relate to the Thracian times. In 1995 the International Federation of Carnival Cities accepted the town of Pernik as a full member. In June, 2009, Pernik was proclaimed as the European capital of Survas & Mummers and included in the UNESCO list of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
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