The village of Noevtsi is situated in the Graovo area, 20 km from the town of Pernik. In the near past, its inhabitants were 1200. Today they are less than a half of it, but all of them speak about their birthplace with enthusiasm and love: “We keep and love Bulgarian traditional holidays. On St Nicolaus’ Day, we gather for a kurban (votive offering) up at the church. On Pentecost is the village’s fair and there is a wild merriment on the square. On Shrovetide, everyone asks forgiveness from his family and relatives, and even the mayor always gathers the villagers and asks forgiveness from them. We burn fires and the young jump them over, the children swing oratnitsi (torches with straw on the top)… But the best is on 14 January – Surova. The masks of our survakari are the most interesting, because they do not match each other – everyone makes his own one by himself and nobody sees it until it is ready. And the next year he either supplements and changes it or makes a new one. There are people who have made themselves 5 or 6 masks and constantly change them. The faces of the masks are from walnut tree. They put around it leather, horns, tails, hoofs – what not! Once our survashkari were with masks from feathers and their costumes were from old rags cut into pieces. Today they like more the masks from wood and leather. And their costumes are also from leather with the fur outside. They gather them throughout the whole year. The more fearful they are with their masks, leather costumes and big bells, the more evil creatures they will expel. There is a leader (bolyubashiya) in the group dressed in a revolutionary uniform, a ‘bride’, a ‘bridegroom’, a ‘priest’, a ‘cashier’, ‘father-in-law’, ‘mother-in-law’… They distribute those roles on a gathering, which the group always carries out in December. The ‘bride’ is the most handsome boy. For the ‘priest’ they chose an elderly and serious man, and for the leader – an authoritative young man. The group comprises about 70 people, and for the Pernik festival, they are more than 100. There are also women and little children among them, but mostly are men.”
On the very 14 January in the morning, about 7 o’clock, the masquerade group gathers in the center of the village and goes around from house to house to greet the hosts and to wish them good health and prosperity. The village resounds with the bells. All the inhabitants wait for the masked, enjoy their visit, gift them with money, meat, wine and rakia (brandy), sweets, fruits. At some places, they invite them inside for abundant meals with ritual food – meat with cabbage, banitsa (cheese pie). They do not stay for long, for they have to go around the whole village until the evening. The ‘priest’ ‘marries’ the ‘young couple’, pronounces a prayer for good health to the hosts and for fun incenses them with hot peppers instead of frankincense. In every yard, the survakari perform their heavy survashkari horo (chain dance). They do not enter in houses, where there is someone ill or recently deceased.
After visiting all the houses in the village, the survakari gather in the square, dance with the masks around the fire and celebrate with all local people and guests, while the forest and the field resound with the bells until late at night. In the recent years, the Noevtsi group exchanges visits with the survakari from the village of Gabrov Dol and the merriment with the masks, fires, torches and outdancing becomes ‘quite a miracle’.
With the gathered money, the group buys the voivode costume for the leader, the drums for the two drum players, the priest clothes for the ‘priest’. Part of the sum the participants invariably grant for sick people or people in need, for furnishing the school with new technical equipment and for organizing feasts for all the inhabitants. In the recent past, they gathered their fellow-villagers on 24 May. Today they make a survakari kurban (votive offering). Every year on 6 May – St George’s Day – in the Glave area, they pitch tents, put tables and benches, arrange an exhibition with their best-sounding bells, cook and hand out boiled lamb for the health of the survakari and of all the villagers. The whole village is there, the dances and the merriment do not end until late at night. This is their way to thank the people for always welcoming them with joy and love. And everyone knows – as long as the world lasts, the Surova will be the most expected and favorite feast.
Recorded in 2019