COMANESTI, Romania (AP) — The deafening drumbeats start early in the morning, heralding the arrival of hundreds of people who descend on the sleepy northern Romanian city of Comanesti dressed head to toe as bears, in costumes made from real fur, with the heads attached.
They emerge from minibuses or even freight vans, growling as they dance.
It's a tradition that originated 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. It has also moved to Romania's cities, where the ritual is performed for money. Tradition holds that a bear in the yard of a house means good fortune.
In Comanesti, in the eastern part of Romania, the dance took place on the final day of a weeklong festival of winter traditions held between Christmas and New Year's.
A bear fur costume for an adult, with the head included, weighs up to 40 kilograms (88 pounds) and costs up to 2,000 euros ($2,400). Prices increased 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 better lives in wealthier European Union countries.
But Tudor Huluta, an 8-year-old who has never lived in Romania, offered some hope that the ritual will survive. His Romanian family lives in Britain, but he insisted they return to take part in this year's event.