Gigintsi is part of Breznik municipality in Central Western Bulgaria. It is located in the outskirts of Cherna Gora Mountain. Its population is little above 100. Due to lack of employment it is constantly diminishing. For the Surova feast however everyone comes back in their birthplace to live together through the charm of the masquerade.
The leader of the survashkari group tells: “Yes, the village is very small now, but on 13 and 14 January it is full of people and every household is expecting us with joy. Our group is around 80-100 people. About 30 of the participants are friends from other places, but come and put masks with us, because they have watched us many times and want to experience the magic of the games. Behind the mask, a man becomes different; you have to disguise in order to experience it. Once we used to keep the masks, bells and costumes in a vacant hall in the school. Now everyone keeps them home to enjoy them every time one looks at them. I myself have ordered the bells in the yard next to the barbeque and the whole family enjoys them throughout the whole year. Everyone in our house disguises – me, my brother, his wife, his child, everyone. They say that once women and children did not put masks, but now they are keener on masking than us, the young men. Only my father doesn’t do it because he is too old now. I am born in 1976, a few years later I started playing and since then I have never missed the Surova feast – I have been survashkar for already 37 years. I have been a bells-man (with a mask and bells), I have been a “bride”, now I am a bolyubashiya (leader). The group itself chooses him and that is why after that, everyone listens to him unconditionally.
Years ago, we used to make the masks together in some vacant room or a house. Months before the festival, we came to work together every night. It was such a joy. Making the masks was even more fun than the feast itself – someone would bring a bag of feathers, another – pieces of cloth, a third would bring horns and tails. People from the village also brought materials. Someone even would bring a whole chicken, we take the feathers, bake the chicken and the meriment becomes bigger. When we are in a great need of feathers, we would steal a hen from a relative’s yard. Nobody gets angry, they are even happy with us and would bring some more hens. There is no other way, the reason our masks are the prettiest, is because they are made from many colored feathers and wings. Our costumes are from pieces of cloth, cut in ribbons. Once they sewed pieces of rags, sheets, old shirts… now we try to make it both pretty and esthetic.
When we go to visit the houses and pass the cemetery, we stop there, put the masks down, keep a minute of silence, play a tune in front of the graves, pay respect so they can hear us and be with us. They were once survashkari on this day as well…
It is very cheerful on the holyday, very! Once when we were passing the small wooden bridge in Krumchovi it collapsed. One of the survashkari fell in the water. And it was cold… very cold – minus 20 degrees. Everything on him got frozen but he kept walking with us untill the morning.
People expect us, invite us to the table with banica, jelly, meat with cabbage. Then they gift us, play with us on the yard and see us off to the next house.
We have shown our custom all over Bulgaria, we have been anywhere… All the time we get invitations from other countries – from Italy, Slovenia, Turkey, Croatia.
On Surova only those who already cannot walk doesn’t go with us… everyone is on the feast.”
Recorded in 2019