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Bulgarians ward off evil spirits in ancient winter festival

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Revellers dressed in red, some wearing huge masks and belts strung with large copper bells, dance around a fire on the main square of a Bulgarian village to drive away evil spirits and bring in good health and crops for the New Year.

The festival, held every January in the village of Kosharevo, is known as “Surva” and is a mixture of Christian and pagan rituals that can be traced back to Thracian times.

Some of the dancers, known as Survakars, or kukers (mummers), wear hand-made wooden masks decorated with feathers, which can be up to two metres high. The loud clanging of the bells on their belts is believed to ward off evil and diseases.

During the two-day festival, the village, 50 km west of the capital Sofia, is brimming with life as extended families gather to greet the Survakars and offer them traditional dishes.

Georgi Ivanov, 29, has been participating in the celebrations since he was five years old. Determined to pass the tradition on, he makes masks and outfits not only for himself, but for his young children too.

“There is nothing more exciting than Surva. Nothing, neither birthdays, nor Christmas, nor the New Year. Surva is our time, the time when we become better,” Ivanov said.

“One-two weeks before it I feel as if I am transforming into someone else, as if some other energy flows in my veins. The whole village starts to shine,” he said. —Reuters

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