The festival of Berikaoba has been a tradition in the country of Georgia for thousands of years. To welcome spring, the festival begins with a wrestling match and then there’s a procession featuring
berikas, the spirits of the season.
As the berikas continued down the street, shrieking and lashing the pavement with their whips, villagers offered them gifts of eggs, bread, and wine. The offerings, they believe, will increase their chance of having a fruitful spring and avoiding misfortune. In return, the berikas dole out a special greeting, caressing spectators’ faces with their muddy hands. Howling, splashing through puddles, dancing with liters of homemade wine, the berikas—local men in homemade costumes—evoke the energy of a world emerging from the long, cold winter.
“Thousands of years ago, the procession began from a pagan temple,” says Eka Veshapidze, the local Berikaoba aficionado. “And if townsfolk couldn’t provide food or wine, the berikas would run inside the villager’s house, roll around on the floor and effectively curse the family. Afterwards, they might steal a chicken from the yard. Even if it was the last one.”
They don’t steal chickens anymore, which is good, but the entire festival has died out in most Georgian villages over the past few centuries, as Christianity discouraged the festival due to its pagan origins. Veshapidze is trying to reverse that decline, and her efforts have added street theater, feasts, and wine tasting to the Berikaoba festival activities in her town of Didi Chailuri. It’s become somewhat of a tourist draw since then, and other villages are beginning to re-embrace the ancient festival. Read about the revival of Berikaoba at Atlas Obscura.
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