International Masquerade Games Festival near Sofia

Each year, on the last weekend of January, the citizens of the Bulgarian town of Pernik (a 30-minute ride from Sofia) celebrate Surva, an International Masquerade Games Festival. The event evolved from a local holiday into an international festival back in the 1980s. Since then it has been attracting people from all over the world. This year alone, it was attended by over 6,000 people from Europe, Asia and Africa. To make it even more interesting and challenging, it is organized as a contest between the different Bulgarian folklore groups taking part in it.

But what is it all about?

It’s an ancient Bulgarian custom to have kukeri dancing in the streets of various Bulgarian towns. Most probably a pagan tradition, the first written evidence of it dates back to the VI century. The kukeri are people dressed up like animals to scare away evil spirits. The aim is to get ready for the coming season of new life and purity: spring time.

Bulgaria is not the only country where we chase away the evil spirits of winter. Similar traditions exist in a number of other European countries such as Spain, Romania, Hungary, Italy and France, to name a few.

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