Sopitsa Village

In the area of Graovo, 11 km away from Breznik is situated the village of Sopitsa in a small hollow between the hills Glog, Darven Krast, Stoykov Rid and Krusha. The mineral water in the Solenik locality attracts many visitors, but before reaching the spring, they stop at the center, fascinated by a strange sculpture, made from the stump of a cut centuries-old tree. The unique figure represents a fearful mask with thick horns and widely open mouth. Obviously, the living traditional feast Surova, which is considered a cultural characteristic of the settlement by both locals and guests alike, has attracted the master. The permanent inhabitants of Sopitsa are about 90 persons. The participants in the masquerade group are the same number. Here the masked are from all ages and are called mechkaryѐ (bear keepers). The youngest of them is only 2 years old, plays with enthusiasm and provokes delight wherever the group performs their ancient custom. Actually here, as elsewhere, whole families put masks – the parents, the children, the sons and daughters in law, the grandchildren. If the feast is in a workday, everybody takes a holiday and comes back in the village.

In the first decades of the last century, part of the men just painted their faces black. Today everybody – men, women and children put on their heads zoomorphic masks, made of leather, animal horns, horse tails, distaff-full of wool and wooden hollows. The heavy bells, tied to the waist, are tonally harmonized. The costumes are also from leather, the fur turned inside out. The leader is dressed like a voivode; the personages from the survakars wedding procession – a “bride”, “bridegroom”, “brother-in-law”, “standard-bearer” are in local traditional clothes; the “bear” is dressed in a bear’s fur; the “priest” is quite “like a real one”.

At dusk on 13 January, the masked mechkaryѐ gather at the village center in front of the fire. The masquerade groups from Velkovtsi and Rasnik come for a visit; the locals welcome them with bread and salt, as the Bulgarian tradition requires, and the whole numerous multitude perform their crazy dances until midnight. The local adults as if have come just to watch and enjoy the celebration, but the power of tradition overwhelms their souls; they put on their heads anybody’s masks, play in the rhythm of the bells, join the heavy horo (chain dance) and merge with the mechkaryѐ. Late at night, the visiting masquerade groups from the other villages go home, and the local group also leaves the masks for several hours.

Early on 14 January the mechkaryѐ of Sopitsa start going from house to house and the general fun begins with a new power. Some hosts stay on their balconies with the prepared gifts and impatiently listen for the bells. Others wait them outside the yard gate to invite them inside at the table. In every home, “the priest performs the wedding ceremony”, the “bear keeper” plays the rebec, and the “bear” wrestles with the adults to “heal” them. The rest of the masked play in the yard and on the street. The group should not miss a single inhabited house, for the very visit of the mechkaryѐ is interpreted as a wish for a healthy, successful and fruitful year. For the wish itself, all who are born in the village, those days come back to it. It has been like that for centuries, it is like that today.

Late in the evening, when all the houses are visited, the participants in the masquerade take off their masks, put all the gifts in one place (wine, meat, bacon, peppers, beans, fruits) and in one of the houses starts a rich treat, attended also by many guests.   

Recorded in 2019

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