The ancient custom fighting the evil spirits in the down of a new beginning
Embedded in the warm embrace of Bulgaria's villages, the custom name 'Kukeri' is an old celebration that gathers together people from all ends of the country to dance away the scary spirits.
The custom is held at the beginning of the year in January. Women and men prepare for it months in advance, designing their wooden masks and detailed costumes, some of which resemble animals. The secret and ideology of Kukeri lies in the metaphor that people get to live. The masks and costumes are purposefully designed to be terrifying as the participants are meant to scare the evil spirits away.
When it was firstly celebrated, the people, who did dress up used to go from door to door to make sure that all houses are safe, and people's homes are protected. They would hurry to do this at nighttime so that the sun wouldn't catch them en route. After the long journey, the Kukeri would gather in the centre of the villages and dance for hours. The combination of the way they looked, and the sound of the heavy bells attached to their belts would make all the bad energy disappear so that no harm would ever come to the village. Nowadays, in most places, the celebration often doesn't continue throughout the whole night as the main event will be the dance rituals, performed in the heart of the towns.
Many people and photographers from all over the world would gather in the small country at the beginning of the year to capture and experience the ancient custom. It is a celebration typical for some Balkan countries as well and serves as a connection to a world that doesn't exist anymore, a world where people believed in keeping their homes safe and transforming bad spirits into good energy.
Not wildly popular around the globe and very emblematic for the Bulgarian territory, Kukeri is a spiritual experience with a simplified meaning. It is a custom celebrating the connection to the history of the locals' ancestors and the present of their descendants' present. Different generations of people come together to honour the power of energy and ask for good health, as well as prosperity. Not only in the villages and some of the cities, the custom can be seen performed deep in the mountains where the connection with nature and the earth is stronger than anywhere else.
Words by Emily Georgieva