In the Central Western part of Bulgaria, 30 km away from Pernik is Svetlya village, which is part of Kovachevtsi municipality.
Its inhabitants like to tell about the traditional feast Surova, which they safeguard and maintain “from time immemorial”. Here is the story of one of them:“I started going with the survashkari on Surova before I started attending school. My grandfather and uncle made me a mask and took me in the group. This was around 1961-1962. There were other kids, but only boys, girls did not go on Surova. Most children dressed as young girls, but there were also some with masks, if their fathers were keen enough to make them ones… The older survhaskari were with high masks made of bird wings. In front of the face is a wooden hollow with holes for the eyes and the mouth, leather or cloth on its back and wings from fowls glued close together on top. It takes more than a month to create a mask. I used to buy 20–30 hens. We use their feathers and wings for the masks and with the meat we treat ourselves while preparing for Surova. The greatest number of masks we have prepared in the house of Sando. All his rooms were full of feathers, wings, leathers, hollows, horns and rags. A month or two before 13 January we used to gather there, eat hens and manufacture the masks. Later we moved to one of the schoolrooms. Some 30 years ago, we substituted the wings with feathers only, because they are lighter and more comfortable for the continuous wearing. The costumes in Svetlya have always been made of many-colored cloth ribbons. We gather old bed sheets, shirts and dresses from the grannies, clothes which are no longer used. Months before the festival men manufacture the masks… And women help with the costumes – they sew the ribbons on old home or working clothes. In each house there are two-three masks. Now, besides that everyone makes their own mask, we have 50-60 common masks. We keep them in the hall of the cultural house. Whoever wants to play and does not have a mask, takes one of them and goes with the group.
In my childhood, the survashkari group gathered in the evening on 13 January and set off for some of the neighboring villages. We have visited Elov dol, Berende, Chepino, Sirishtnik. We go there, in every house they expect us, we – frozen, enter about ten persons in some of the houses, warm ourselves and have supper, the older ones drink rakia (brendy). In the meantime “the bride” and the group with her (“groom”, “father in law”, “mother in law”, “standard bearer”, “best man” with a marriage tree, “priest”, “a bear with a bear keeper”) go to every house of the village. Everywhere they are well gifted. They should not omit a single yard, because that would be very offensive for the hosts. When all the houses are visited, we go back to our village. We rest for a bit and then go around the village houses. They all expect us with impatience, invite us in. Back then and today as well, we do not omit a single house. I remember when I was a child, no one had the right to remove his mask while playing, they should not know who was behind the mask. Now we take them off… we do not keep that…
In the recent years, we go to the neighboring villages just to play along with their groups around the fire. We do not visit the houses.
No men in the village has ever missed to disguise on Surova. While I was at work, I would always arrange it with the supervisor of my shift to go on leave for those days. Some took a sick leave in order to play. Even when I served as a soldier, I nevertheless got home for 13 and 14 January. I told my commander that if he would not let me go I would run away. But not only the survashkari are like that. The hosts who welcome them are also here and expect them. Now in Svetlya there are only a few inhabitants left, but on this day everyone comes back home from all places in Bulgaria to welcome the survashkari and to enjoy them. One girl from our village got married in Belgium but her family never misses Surova. They all come back for this day in the village, have fun with the survashkari and welcome them home.”
Recorded in 2018