The deafening drumbeat starts early in the morning in the northern Romanian city of Comanesti, appearing to announce a historic military parade.
It introduces the arrival of a bear armada: hundreds of people, dressed up in full body, real bear fur costumes, descend on the sleepy city, packed in minibuses or even freight vans, growling and engaged in what looks like a trance dance.
The New Year’s Bear Dance Ritual gathered Saturday inhabitants of northern Moldova (Romania’s eastern region), from very young children to the elderly, for the final day of an approximately week-long festival of winter traditions taking place between Christmas and the end of the year.
According to tradition a bear entering the house yard brings good fortune.
The tradition, originating in pre-Christian times, when dancers wearing colored costumes or animal furs, went from house to house in villages singing and dancing to ward off evil, has also moved to Romania's cities, where the ritual is performed for money.
A bear fur costume, regarded as a family trophy, weighs up to 40 kg for the adult size and cost up to two-thousand euros, or 2,406 USD, with prices going up after the introduction of EU regulations controlling bear hunting.
Locals fear the tradition may disappear as large numbers of young Romanians leave the area looking for a better life within the European Union, which Romania joined in 2007, especially in Italy and Spain but also the UK.
Offering hope for the survival of the ancestral ritual Tudor Huluta, an 8-year-old who never lived in Romania, growing up in Britain where his family, originating from northern Romania, works, insisted to take part in this year’s event.
Text from the AP news story, AP PHOTOS: Bear dance ritual connects Romania with the past, by Vadim Ghirda.