Meet the Creepy Monsters of Bulgaria's Kukeri Festival

Article by: emily ward|@_drawylime

Mon March 19, 2018 | 16:00 PM

Health, happiness and a life devoid of ruinous evil spirits. Isn't that all anybody really wants? In Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, locals embrace that life and leave nothing to chance during Kukeri Festival , a long-standing Eastern European folkloric ritual that combines clanging bells, street parades and very creepy goat hair costumes to chase away evil spirits that may have accumulated over the previous year. 

Amidst a cleansing, celebratory spirit, costumed "Kukeri" dress in suits made with layers of silky goat hair, clanging belts weighed down with heavy copper and bronze bells and grotesque wooden masks. The Kukeri " dance and jump in arcane rituals intended to dispel the evil spirits which might otherwise bring loshotiya , or ill fortune, to a community." 

Locals believe the constantly clanging bells and grotesque costumes (as ugly or uglier as the spirits themselves) are the ticket to scaring evil spirits away. Apparently, the best way to get rid of evil spirits is to annoy them with a taste of their own creepy, grotesque medicine. Who knew? 

Great Big Story went to Bulgaria to speak with local Desislava Ilieva as she and her family prepares for the annual event. Glimpse into the process, where goats are bred anywhere from five to seven years specifically for this occasion, and the intricate hand-sewn costumes take up to eight months to complete.

Kukeri Festival 2009 Klearchos Kapoutsis Flickr Cc 1

The "Kukeri" tradition holds those ringing bells as the most essential tool in driving evil spirits and forces away, and particularly strong men can carry up to 30 small bells on their belt at once. For Bulgarians, the festival is "a wish for something better, for health and longevity throughout the year, and above all, it is a way to preserve Bulgarian tradition – not to lose it."