The Surva Festival you can attend in Pernik is unmissable, not only because it is the oldest festival of masquerade games in the country. It is so colorful and unique with costumes, traditions and dances, that it will leave lasting memories in your mind. On January 16, 1966, the winter kukeri carnival held for participants from the Pernik region marked the beginning of annual masquerade games which turned into a nationwide event eagerly awaited each year.
Since 1966, the organizing institution has been the Municipality of Pernik. Since 1985, the Surva festival (Kukeri Festival) has become an event of international significance, and has the statute of an international event. Ten years later, in 1995, Pernik became a member of the Federation of European Carnival Towns.
What is the most precious about the festival? The opportunity to watch the traditional national games, and customs in which masks are used. Surva Festival in Pernik It is also a unique event of its kind in the entire Balkan region. You can attend it on the last weekend of January. Then, on Saturday and Sunday, the highlight is the two-day competitive parade of masqueraded groups not just from Bulgaria, but from other countries as well. The participants number about 6,000 on average, and the groups are about 100. They come from all the ethnographic regions of the country, plus guests from Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Not only men, but also women and small children become kukeri and join the masquerade groups at Surva festival. As for male participants, you can even see some kukeri men aged over 70, dancing with vigor equal to that of younger dancers. Only at this kukeri festival can you see masks from all ethnographic regions of Bulgaria.
In the Pernik region, each village has its masqueraded kuker (Kukers) group, and often such Kukeri groups number over 50 participants. The costumes of the kuker’s worn are of two types, from fur and from rags. Sheep and goat fur is used, as well as wings and feathers from domestic birds. The decorations comprise woolen threads, beads, dry plants, etc. The ritual is often similar to a wedding ceremony. Groups go round and visit each house, and there is a collective dance on the village square.
The Surva Masquerade games in Bulgaria are linked primarily with the Christmas season festivities and the period afterwards, up to Easter. YIn the Christmas season, masked dancers are called “survakari”, and those in the games preceding spring are known as “koukeri”. But at the Pernik festival you can see both survakari and koukeri. “Surva” is thought to be a word modified from the name of the god of the sun that Thracians used. Kukeri dancers are especially colorful, with scary masks on their heads, bells attached to their belts, and clad in coarse fur coats. ou can visit any of the events with local private guide in Bulgaria who will explain you more about the Kukeri traditions.
The dances symbolize the passing of the old year and the arrival of the new one. The Surva festival in Pernik and the masquerade games all over Bulgaria are a symbol of chasing away evil forces and welcoming good ones. They also express the wish for health and fertility of people and domestic animals alike. Masks are believed to protect people from evil forces.
Guests at Surva Festival in Bulgaria have the possibility to sample traditional Bulgarian dishes, and buy handmade souvenirs to remind them of this colorful event.