Kukeri is a traditional Bulgarian ritual of Thracian origins. The ritual is performed between Christmas and Lent by costumed men, who walk around and dance to scare away the evil spirits, as well as to provide a good harvest, health, fertility, and happiness.According to the tradition, the kukeri visit people’s houses at night so that “the sun would not catch them on the road.” After going around the village, the kukeri gather at the square to dance and amuse people. The symbolic meaning of the winter and pre-spring rituals performed be single men is related to the end of the old year and the beginning of the new one and to the upcoming awakening of nature for new life.
The fearsome animal looking masks (originally representing the goat) worn by the Kukeri often have hinged jaws that can be snapped open and shut, as well as horns which may be real or just wooden. Sometimes these masks have two sides, one representing good and the other evil, reflecting the balance of these forces in nature. The masks are believed to drive away malevolent spirits, and once donned cannot be removed for the rest of the day. Quite a challenge considering how heavy they must be!
The Kukeri also add various other symbolic articles to their horns such as tassels, ivy (which is sacred to Dionysus), basil (a herb which signifies love in some cultures) and feminine beads and ribbons.