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This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.
This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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Surva festival

Surva festival

City center, Pernik, Bulgaria

RELIGIONS Orthodox, Paganism


The international festival of masquerade games Surva is the most prestigious celebration of traditional folk games and customs with masks in the Balkans. It popularizes extant versions of ancient bachelor rites, part of the folklore tradition of the region. The feast is held annually on the last weekend of January to celebrate the New Year according to the old calendar. The festival is famous for its two-day parade for masquerade companies from Bulgaria and abroad. More than 7000 people or about 100 groups from every folklore region of Bulgaria, as well as companies from Europe, Asia, and Africa take part in the parade. A competition for most appealing masks and costumes takes place. The ritual is included in the in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List since 2015. The festival takes place on the main square and various other location in the downtown. The city of Pernik is situated in central western Bulgaria, 30 km away from the capitol Sofia. It is easily accessible by car, bus, or train. Traveling from Sofia to Pernik takes 20 – 30 minutes by car, 30 – 40 minutes by Bus, and 40 – 60 minutes by train.
The Kukerstvo rites symbolizes the departure of the winter and the return of the new life with the onset of warm days and is one of the oldest surviving traditions dating 6000 years into the past. The Thracians celebrated the ancient Greek god of wine and joy Dionysus. The companions of the deity (satyrs and sileni) are predecessors of the Kukeri. Satires are portrayed as bearded men with long animal ears and goat legs. The the noise that the Kukeri create originates in the myth of the Kourites, the guardians of the cave where Zeus grew up. The Kourites performed noisy fighting dances, with which they had to silence the cries of the newborn Zeus and divert the attention of Cronus, who would have devoured his son otherwise. Kukeri rituals have been a constant feature of Balkan folk culture. They are performed by unmarried men, wearing costumes that cover most of the body and include decorated wooden masks of animals and large bells attached to the belt. Around New Year and before Lent, Kukeri walk and dance through villages to scare away evil spirits with their dreadful appearance and with the sound of their bells. They are also perform fertility rites believed to provide good harvest, health, and happiness to the village during the year.
The Surva festival gathers thousands of people from different confessions and nationalities. While some of them are self-proclaimed pagans, most are in fact Christian or irreligious. While preserving the form of the ancient tradition, contemporary festivities have generally lost their sacred function. Today, the event is much more a celebration of diversity, welcoming everyone who likes to share their joy and appreciation of traditional culture. Participants from three continents meet to present their art and heritage. The fascinating encounter creates space for dialogue and recognition of the communalities between the distinctive traditions.
The historical processes of Christianization are related to changing the spiritual content of folk culture, where the core of religious beliefs is changing. The content of religious faith, morality and cult changes, and old religious practices or symbols are filled with new content. The resulting syncretism combines features of Christian and Pagan religious practices. The rites of spring that originally relate to animism and the periodic change of the seasons blend with the celebration of Christ's resurrection and redemption. Up to the present day, many Bulgarians hold mythological notions and magical beliefs alongside their adherence to Orthodox teachings. The Kukeri customs are renounced by the Orthodox church as heretical practice that is incompatible with Christian doctrine. Despite that, many Christians participate in the festivities honoring Saint Basil’s Day. Kukerstvo is an integral part of Bulgarian national identity.
- Direct visit
- Virtual visit: Watch excerpts from the video and the photo galleries in the media resources section.
- Classroom activity: Discuss how is it possible that for an ancient tradition to exist today. How has it changed? How does religion shape our judgements and behaviours? For detailed instructions, refer to 'Between innovation and tradition' (



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This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.