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International festival cancelled yet “Surva” custom remains alive

Ritual fires to be lit in over 50 villages in Pernik area

Photo: survakari.com

The folk custom of Surva and the International Festival of Masquerade Games of the same name are among the most popular winter holidays in Bulgaria. And they are undoubtedly a wonderful illustration of the link between "tradition and modernity".

The custom is performed on the 13th and the 14th of January when the "People's New Year" comes. The festival gathers participants and fans over the last Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the same month. The festival is traditionally held in Pernik - the administrative center of six municipalities and is of competitive character. The custom is part of the folklore holiday calendar of the villages in five of the six municipalities in the region of Pernik. Moreover, Surva is a tradition that makes people born in the region return for the holiday to meet their relatives and participate in the ritual.

Surva is a tale about the birth of order from chaos, about the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Mummers dance and go around villages to protect homes from illness, infertility, demons and evil. People are welcome to the traditional folk custom because the real Surva takes place in the villages,”
Ivanka Vassileva, chief expert at the Culture Department of Pernik Municipality, one of the organizers of events says. It is well known that in 2015, the custom was included in UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage.

“Bulgaria is a country where despite all the difficulties and hardships, people make efforts to preserve traditional customs and values,” Ms Vassileva says. “Surva occupies an exceptional place in the life of Pernik villages and is a true national holiday. Preparation starts as early as September. It is well known that, according to tradition, each participant makes their own costume. On January 13 the bells are taken out to be cleaned, as well as for the village to hear them. Later, when playing around the fire starts, voices mix with the sound of the bells from nearby villages."

"This year, the Surva fire will be started in more than 50 villages. In Pernik municipality alone there are 19 villages, while in Radomir municipality they are 12 and so on. You know, the world seems to be changing on this day. The strongest feelings are experienced in the square where the fires are lit. You look around and you are surrounded by these masks - funny, fearsome, graceful... They are the human second self, which is part of the colorful festive kaleidoscope. The masked characters coexist with the obligatory ritual characters - a guide, a bride with a groom, a priest, a bear... The masquerade festival has elements of competition while the folk custom makes people be guests to each other. Some of the mummer groups also visit other villages. In the village of Elov Dol, for example, we expect seven groups to gather. Everyone who loves this holiday can come. We will publish full information on the website of the Municipality on January 10th.”

The upcoming 29th edition of the International Masquerade Games Festival, scheduled for January 24-26, has been cancelled because of the water crisis in Pernik.
In the current situation, this seems to be the only correct solution but organizers and participants are undoubtedly disappointed.

“We had over 8,000 participants enrolled, including 120 groups from Bulgaria and over 15 from abroad. The organizing committee assured us that next year we would make an even better festival. In Pernik, Surva is of particular importance. It existed before us and it will exist after us. This is a ritual affirming the new beginning and the desires for fertility and prosperity.”

English: Alexander Markov
Photos: survakari.com

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