Photo: The Daily Mail
At the Ursul festival, Romany gypsies wear bear skins to ward off evil spirits from the year gone by. This scene in Comanesti, north of Bucharest, is replicated across Romania.
Today I saw a photo in the Boston Globe about an unusual custom in Romania. Inspired to do a Google search, I found a surprising amount of information.
Jay Akbar writes for Mailonline, “In a bizarre ritual every December between Christmas and New Year, Roma gypsies living in Comăneşti, 300km north of Bucharest … put on real bear skins and parade through the streets.
“The festival called Ursul — which is replicated across the country — originated from an ancient Indo-European tribe known as the Geto-Dacians, who believed bears were sacred.
“They and other tribes who lived in what is now Romania and Moldova — then known as Dacia — thought bears were the spirit of the forest and ‘the supreme master of cosmic energy’.
“According to Romanian mythology, the bear possesses the power to protect and heal.
“Villagers would long ago cover a newborn baby with bear fat, to give him strength and luck. And today they believe bear skins protect them from the spirits they are chasing out of the village.”
Read more at The Daily Mail, where you will find lots of terrific pictures.
The Ursul experiences of photographer Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi are at CNN. She recounts how her grandmother used to see Gypsies descending “into towns from the forests in which they lived, bringing with them real bears.”
Up until the 1930s, she says, “Townsfolk would pay the Gypsies in exchange for letting the bear cubs walk up and down their backs — seen as a cure for backache.”
No more live bears today — just people in bearskins.
(Even so, I wonder if I should ask a physical therapist about getting a bear cub treatment.)