Pernik is only 30 minutes’ drive from Sophia. Few people would recommend you to visit this city, unless you are fond of decayed concrete industrial landscapes or interested in Bulgarian trade unions’ legacy.
Yet there is one good reason to visit Pernik in January and it is the International Festival of Masquerade Games “Surva”. It is the oldest festival in Bulgaria and among the most vivid local customs.
The mummers’ tradition derives from the ancient pagan past of the Bulgarians. The idea of the Mummer dance is to drive evil away and bring happiness and prosperity to the people in the village. There are many different Mummers in Bulgaria; they even have different names in the different regions – kukeri, dervishi, startsi, etc. Their costumes and masks are different, but all mummers are united by chasing the evil spirits away with the help of fearsome masks, and the loud sound of “dancing” bells. Mummers have a string of bells, which is hung on the belt and when the mummer jumps and dances, the sound is so loud and can be heard in the neighbouring village.
Mummers are usually dressed in thick coats and traditional costumes are made of sheep or goat skins. Note that this custom is a part of the winter folklore calendar; no wonder thick coats are a must. Local tradition is being influenced by fashion and you can see different costumes, with a colourful foreign touch.
In Western Bulgaria mummers perform their rituals between Christmas (25 December) and Epiphany (6 January), while in Eastern Bulgaria the mummers’ ritual is performed between the second Sunday before Lent (8 Sundays before Easter) and the first Sunday (7 Sundays before Easter) before Lent;
In Bulgaria, many mummers’ festivals are held, but three of them are with international participation - Surva in Pernik (the last weekend of January), Starchevata in Razlog (mid-January and Kukerlandia inYambol (mid-February). Surva is the best and not to be missed.
Enjoy the music, enjoy the vivid colours of the folklore heritage, enjoy the bells , enjoy the local cuisine and red wine – shortly, enjoy life and be part of the ancient tradition of purifying the society and nature of evil spirits.