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The Bulgarian Festival Calendar

 

Surva - The Winter Masquerade Rituals

January 13th - 14th.

 

Masquerade rituals can be seen all over Bulgaria to this day. In latter years the interest in masquerade rituals in Bulgaria is undergoing a boom. Perhaps the inspiration has come from the largest festival of this kind held in the town of Pernik near the capital city. This “Surva” Festival gathers masquerade groups from all over Bulgaria marching, dancing and singing in the streets for days on end. Formations from different countries round the world join the Pernik event, showing through their performances various carnival traditions. The festival takes place every other year in mid-January. After the impressive parade of Masks last winter, Pernik seems calmer. Yet it is already preparing for the next edition in 2009. On the other hand the very strong masquerade tradition of South western Bulgaria rises in full glamour in the villages of the region on January 13 and 14.

   Each place in the country has its characteristic masques. In South west Bulgaria masque rituals are called “Surva”; the masque dancers – “Survakari”, “Mechkari” meaning bear keepers or “Startsi” meaning old men. Even though named differently and looking different, what they have in common is that the masques resemble fierce or fantastic animals. The ancient significance of the ritual was to chase the evil spirits of the outgoing year away by scaring them off and to awake life-bringing forces for the new farm season. In some of the villages people make the masques out of fur and horns of domestic and wild animals. In others they make them out of feathers from different kinds of birds. Local men used to make their own costumes and masques. They follow an ancient tradition and yet put all their imagination and creativity in the making of the apparel. Nowadays the masques have become larger and weigh about 10-20 kilograms, so they have to be fixed on the shoulders. About as much weigh the traditional strings of metal cattle bells tied on a belt at the waist. Their deafening sound adds up to the scaring-off-of-evil-and-awakening-of-goodness effect of the ritual. The costume usually made of goatskins is also quite heavy. But that is not all. The dressed-up men hop around in rhythm and tour all houses of the village. They enter the yards and there perform the special ritual.
    The fashion of local masquerade festivals has been spreading in latter years. The small town of Radomir, also in Southwest Bulgaria organized this year for the first time its masque festival. The Pirin Mountain town of Razlog, which stands very close to the modern Bansko winter resort, also has its own festival. This year, too, Razlog gathered on January 13 masquerade groups from neighbouring villages and neighbouring countries as well. Local costumes differ from the rest with their very longhaired goat furs. The dance of the men resembles the movement of a bird whose arms are spread out in flight. But here, too, the performance is accompanied by the rich sound of the numerous copper bells tied around the dancer’s waist.
   The wave of January masquerades in the South western region of Bulgaria will continue in February with similar festivities in Eastern Bulgaria. Throughout Thrace and at the foot of the Balkan Range, along the Danube River and down at the Black Sea coast people put on their masques at Shrovetide, or “Zagovezni” in Bulgarian, which is just before the Easter Lent. They ritually see off winter and welcome spring. The diversity of masques is still greater this time. But they are closer to the traits of a human face, even though still rather scary. Masques in those parts are mostly made of textile decorated with beads, braids, tassels, ribbons and sequins. Some rise in the form of sharp hoods, others just cover the face. In Eastern regions the ritual is related to agriculture as a livelihood. That is why the masqued dancers perform the ritual of ploughing and sowing. The spring festival in the Thracian town of Rakovski has gained popularity in latter years. Together with Pernik and Razlog to the West it has taken its due place in the Federation of European Carnival towns and the international exchange of groups with masquerade rituals.

 

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