The best place to see the festival is the city of Pernik
Kukeri is a unique and fascinating tradition that originated in Bulgaria and is still celebrated today. It is an ancient ritual performed during the winter months, particularly around New Year’s and during the carnival season. The tradition involves participants, known as Kukeri, donning elaborately crafted masks and costumes made from fur, feathers, and other materials.
The word Kuker represents a person, usually a tall male, with a disguise that we will explain later. They have specific dances and a lot of them bring nightmares to bed that same night. The Kukeri masks are often large and intimidating, representing various mythical creatures and animals such as goats, bears, or demons. The purpose of wearing these masks is to chase away evil spirits, bring good luck, and ensure a bountiful harvest for the upcoming year.
The costumes are made on a wooden surface and decorated with coloured threads, fabrics, pieces of broken mirrors, sequins and other coloured ornaments. Another characteristic feature of the costume is the bells hanging around the waist. Normally their number is between 50 and 60 and weigh up to 80 kg. Traditionally, each costume looks like a fur jacket from a sheep or goat.
In Bulgaria many “Kukeri” festivals are organized and held but, on an international level, “Surva” in the city of Pernik and “Starchevata” in Razlog are the only ones recognized by UNESCO.
Beyond the festive parades and processions, Kukeri gatherings often include communal feasts, music, and dancing. The celebrations foster a sense of community spirit and unity, as people come together to honor their heritage and protect their traditions.
The magazine New Yorker has created a short documentary about this tradition that you can watch here.