Bulgarian ritual of Kukeri is the one to scare away the evil spirits and demons that would harm the people and destroy their crops. It begins simply enough, with a parade through the streets. Only men are traditionally allowed to participate in the Kukeri. By dancing and clanging loud bells called “chanove” it is believed that the evil spirits are run out of the village and that the town will have a good harvest as well as peace, prosperity, health, and land fertility.
Everyone is encouraged to make and wear their own personal masks to help in driving the demons out of the village. Ritual fires are lit, with the challenge to make the body physically stronger by jumping over the fire while calling upon nature to expel the evil forces.
The Kukeri is a mixture of Christian and Pagan beliefs and icons. The Bulgarian people can trace their lineage back to the Thracians, who were allies of the Trojans during the Trojan Wars. They were considered barbarians, and yet they had developed a culture that included music and poetry, which may have been handed down to the Bulgarians.
The men sometimes sing Christmas songs as they attempt to drive out the evil spirits. It was so important that until the last one hundred years real fighting and even murders would break out between two Kukeri groups of different villages.
It is a crowded event because of its popularity, and as the festival continues you can see the people of Bulgaria going about their usual daily routine, with chickens and goats in the middle of the road as this important ceremony is conducted.
Only in close knit cultures do you see the companionship that is shown between the people, as can be seen in the Kukeri. It is a unique folklore, and it can only be seen in Bulgaria.