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Surva festival in Bulgaria

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Surva festival in Bulgaria: the story of Georgi from Kosharevo

What is Surva?

“Surva” is a festival in Bulgaria when people around the country gather to chase away evil spirits from their houses. Every region in the country has different periods for this celebration but it is often shortly after New Year’s Eve. For many people, Surva marks the end of the “old” year and the beginning of the new one. People believe the festival purifies their souls and brings a healthy and prosperous new year.

Every region in the country has slight variations of the actual celebration but in essence, “survakari” (surva people dressed with scary masks) gather and perform along the streets of a village or town. In some regions, surva people will gather on a village square dressed up in costumes and scary masks late in the evening, make a fire and perform around it. This will mark the beginning of Surva. On the following day, all survakari from the village will visit each house in the village where there are people.

Hosts are really looking forward to welcoming survakari as they are considered to bring luck and happiness. Some hosts will start preparation for meeting their guests from the previous day and will prepare traditional dishes. If somebody does not open the door to survakari and does not welcome them, that is considered a bad fortune. The only occasion when this is accepted is in case of a recent death in a family. Even then, survakari will still stop in front of the gates of a house and acknowledge the family.

When trying to document this tradition, I wanted to get in touch with somebody who is willing to pass it on to his children. That is how I met Georgi.

Georgi’s story

Georgi is a very energetic young man from the village of Kosharevo (Pernik municipality, Bulgaria). I visited him in his house together with Luka Esenko and Amadeja Knez both fantastic photographers. All of us were willing to tell Georgi’s story.

Georgi is one of the two people in the village Kosharevo making masks and a leader of the local group. He invited us kindly to his home and let us witness the making of a mask. He showed us his costume, the bells, and the way he prepares for Surva. In 2024, his role was going to be to lead the local group which numbers more than 100 people including quite a few children less than 10 years old. The youngest survakar we met was 3 years old (picture below).

Our hero is so enthusiastic that he has tattooed a picture from a scene of the festival on his back. Another tattoo with the costume and mask is done on his leg. He would make special masks for his two children and take them with him to the event. Needless to say, his wife, uncle, aunt, and nephew were all survakari! The tradition is still very, very alive in the village of Kosharevo. When visiting it for Surva you can see how the village becomes alive and everybody enjoys the festival.

Surva: day 1

After the preparation in Georgi’s house we attended the event itself. There was amazing energy flowing in the air. Sounds of bells were coming from every corner of the village. Hundreds of people wanted to feel and enjoy the masks, the people, and the atmosphere were all coming into the village.

Kosharevo village was a host of two other groups from other regions. Traditionally, every village invites guests and exchanges visits to each other throughout the years. This time there was a group of “Dervishi” whose masks were conical hats with lots of colours and a group from Sofia. The costumes of Kosharevo survakari are red pieces of cloth and masks made of feathers.

The peak time of the evening was when a large fire was started in the centre of the square and survakari were performing around it. Fire torches with the letters “SURVA KOSHAREVO 2024” were lit up on the elevated hillside visible by the square.

Surva: day 2

On the second day after the event last night, all survakari gather and perform with their masks and costumes visiting each house in the village. People are really enjoying these visits as they consider them for a sign of health and prosperity. At the end of the day, everybody is tired but purified. Now, the new year can begin!

Here is a short video for Surva made by Luka Esenko!

Here is a video made by Amadeja Knez:

Also, please read the blog post by Luka which includes some more images and the interpretation of a visitor.

I would like to express my deep gratitude to all people from the village of Kosharevo who let me be a part of their festival and my mate in travel Luka Esenko and Amadeja Knez. It has been a fantastic trip!

If you are willing to join me for next year’s celebration in mid-January, feel free to contact me!

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