Kukeri or Surva Festival (Mummer's games) in the town of Pernik near Sofia, is the most spectacular "Kukeri" event in Bulgaria. At the end of January thousands of "kukeri" participants from different regions of Bulgaria, as well as masked groups from all around the world gather in Pernik for the three-day event.
Kukeri is a pagan Bulgarian tradition of Thracian origins - in ancient times the old Thracians held the Kukeri (Mummers’) Ritual Games in honour of god Dionysus. The Kukeri games are performed by men, women, and even children, dressed in colourful hand-made costumes and wearing scary masks. Each has also a leather belt around the waist with huge copper bells (chanove) attached to it. The Kuker's masks are decorated with threads, ribbons, laces and usually represent animals like goats, bulls, rams, or even chicken. Some of the masks are double-faced. On one of the sides, the nose is snubbed and the face is good-humored, on the other side, the nose is hooked and the face is ominous. Those masks symbolize the good and the bad which co-exist in the world.
A very important thing for the symbolic meaning of the masks are the decoration colors. Red is the most used color - symbolizes fertility of the reviving nature, the sun and the fire; the black color represents Mother Earth and white is a symbol of water and light. The Kukers walk around, jump and dance special magic dances to scare away the evil spirits, to celebrate the beginning of the spring and hopes for a good harvest, health, land fertility, and happiness.
The festival held in Pernik is the oldest festival of the masquerade games in Bulgaria. The first edition was opened on January 16, 1966. In 1995 the International Federation of Carnival Cities accepted the town of Pernik as its full member. In 2009 Pernik was proclaimed as the European capital of Surva`s and Mummer's.
The news that the Kukeri tradition and the Surva Festival in Pernik will be included in UNESCO’s list of protected non-material cultural heritage, was announced before the inaugural ceremony of the 20th edition of the mummery fest.