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Kukeri ( ; singular: кукер, kuker) is a traditional Bulgarianmarker ritual to scare away evil spirits, with a costumed man performing the ritual. The costumes cover most of the body and includes decorated wooden masks of animals (sometimes double-faced) and large bell attached to the belt. Around New Year and before Lent, the kukeri walk and dance through the village to scare evil spirits away with the costumes and the sound of the bells, as well as to provide a good harvest, health, and happiness to the village during the year.

The kukeri traditionally visit the peoples' houses at night so that "the sun would not catch them on the road." After going around the village they gather at the square to dance wildly and amuse the people. The ritual varies by region but its essence remains largely the same.

Distribution of the ritual and its materials

The ritual is attributed to Thracian origins. Similar rituals can be also found in Romaniamarker and Serbiamarker. The masked goat-type figure is known as Capra in Moldavia, Brezaia in Muntenia, Cerbul in Bucovina, and Turca in Transylvania. In Greek Dionysos' cult, bacchanates would don the skins of sacrificed goat-kids. The death and resurrection of the Capra (goat) reflects the death and rebirth of vegetation. The Capra's chiseled wooden mask has a movable 'clamping' lower jaw for the lively dance, and its horns are either of wood or from a goat, ram, or stag. The horn's are adorned with girls' beads and kerchiefs, ribbons, multi-coloured tassles, mirrors, ivy (Hedera helix, a plant that is also considered sacred to Dionysos, used in thyrsus staves), basil (Ocimum basilicum, a symbol of, inter alia, love in Italymarker and Romaniamarker), natural or artificial flowers etc. The Capra's body may be made of different materials depending on local tradition, such as carpet or red cloth with adornments sewn on: traditional colourful cloth, embroidered handcerchiefs in Suceavamarker, beaded ornate women's textile girdles in Bacăumarker, reed (Phragmites australis) seed heads in Botoşanimarker and Iaşimarker, goat pelts in Vrancea and in Mehedinţi, fabric ribbons or coloured paper in Neamţ and in Giurgiumarker etc.


Kuker is a divinity personifying fecundity, sometimes in Bulgaria and Serbia it is a plural divinity. In Bulgaria, a ritual spectacle of spring (a sort of carnival) takes place after a scenario of folk theatre, in which Kuker's role is interpreted by a man attired in a sheep- or goat-pelt, wearing a horned mask and girded with a large wooden phallus. During the ritual, various physiological acts are interpreted, including the sexual act, as a symbol of the god's sacred marriage, while the symbolical wife, appearing pregnant, mimes the pains of giving birth. This ritual inaugurates the labours of the fields (ploughing, sowing) and is carried out with the participation of numerous allegorical personages, among which is the Emperor and his entourage.


The rock formations of Kukeri Nunataks on Livingston Islandmarker in the South Shetland Islandsmarker, Antarcticamarker are named after the Bulgarian folkloric ritual of Kukeri.



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