Among the most interesting participants in the traditional holidays are the so called “Kukeri”. They are carnival personages dressed as beasts or other characters, always wearing masks and often cow bells on their belts and coats with their fur inside out. A gathering of the kukeri is organized on the 1st of January, during the New Year celebrations. Young and old people dress in folk costumes, put on masks and dance to chase away the evil spirits. The games and customs of the kukeri are performed by males only, most of them bachelors. Every group of kukeri has a leader who is the only married man, i.e. householder with an established social status. In Eastern Bulgaria you will know the leaders by their bride and groom costumes. In the other parts of Bulgaria the leaders are dressed in goat, sheep, or roe skins, with leather masks on their heads, or with faces covered in soot.
It is thought that the most ancient masks are the ones depicting a ram, a goat and a bull. the impression made by the masked kukeri is enhanced by the sound of the copper and bronze bells hanging from their costumes. The Surva international gathering of the kukeri in the city of Pernik is the most famous one, with guests from all over the world, coming to experience the performance’s magic; to see and touch the masks, to feel rejuvenated and make their wish for a good health and luck throughout the year.