Kukeri is an ancient celebration that is still practiced in Bulgaria. The festival has been traced back to some of the first people who settled in the region, the Thracians. However, it is thought that the settlers may have brought the pagan festival with them from Greece. There are similar festivals in surrounding areas called the Balkans. Kukeri is thought to come from the Latin word cuculla that means “hood.” To celebrate, people wear special costumes and masks. They dance and play games to welcome the spring and keep evil spirits away.
- The largest Kukeri Festival is celebrated every year in the Bulgarian town called Pernik.
- A big part of the festival every year is a parade that happens over two days.
- Thousands of people participate.
- People in the parade wear costumes made of goat fur and brightly-colored clothes.
- They also wear giant masks made of papier-mâché (paper mixed with glue).
- These masks are supposed to scare away evil spirits that could bring bad luck during the year.
- The festival was named a UNESCO site of intangible cultural heritage in 2015.
- There are costume contests and traditional dancing.
- Dressed in wild costumes, the characters also perform plays.
- Many of the female roles are played by men dressed as women because for a long time, women were not allowed to participate.
- Another ancient tradition is The Survakari. Groups that look like wedding parties go from house to house and chase out evil spirits by performing blessings.
- The ritual looks like a wedding ceremony that takes place inside the house where everyone in the house is blessed by a priest.
- These wedding ceremonies/blessings sometimes take place in public so anyone can participate and be blessed.
- Some ceremonies also include people jumping over bonfires to be purified.
The Kukeri tradition is an ancient one. There are large aspects that have remained the same over thousands of years, but every town has its own version of the festival. Regardless of the differences, this is a fun way for people to celebrate the new year and enjoy their culture together.