Kukeri tradition symbolizes the departure of winter and the return of new life with the arrival of warm days and is one of the oldest in the Bulgarian lands and dates back to 6000 years ago. In the time of the Thracians, it was celebrated in the days of the ancient Greek god of wine and gaiety – Dionysus. In ancient times the worshipers of Dionysus were called satyrs. Satyrs are depicted as bearded men with long animal ears and goat legs. These were the guardians of little Zeus /father of the god Dionysus/. Satyrs danced war dances that were supposed to silence the cries of the newborn Zeus and distract the titan Cronos, who was known for eating his children. The word “kukeri” has a Thracian origin and means “tall, masked people”. They wear clothes made from goat, sheep or deer skins. They hang clappers and bells on themselves, carry sticks to ward off evil forces and like that they welcome spring, symbolizing fertility and prosperity. They gather in the center of the village, from where they go around the houses and wish to everyone ertility and health. The hosts present the “guests – kukeris” with wine and food, and they kiss the host’s hand. After the trip around the village, the group returns to the center which is called megdan, where they perform their ancient ritual. The kukeris run in different directions, jingling their bells as loud as they can. It is believed that the louder they are, the more certain they are to drive away evil forces and spirits. The leader (king) blesses for fertility. One of the kukers ritually kills him, and the rest gather over and “resurrect” him.

Making kuker masks is a kind of art. Most of them are from wooden construction. Multicolored threads, pieces of fabric, mirrors and other elements are glued to the mask. The mask must be ugly and scary to “frighten” the evil. The most ancient masks are in the form of a ram, a goat and a bull. Some masks have two faces. On one side, the face is good-natured – chip nose, smiling face. On the other side, the nose is large and humped as a face of sinister. This is how good and evil are shown, which exist in parallel.

Along its long journey, the kukeri holiday has collected the best that the folk fantasy has created – fiery patterns, wild rhythms and incredible symbolism. Even today, the games associated with kukeri are a favorite folk pastime, awaited with smiles and impatience. Shrouded in mystery and romance, kukeris are part of Bulgaria’s living human heritage.