Bears dance down the street in Romania. But watchers don’t run, scream, or hide. The “bears” are actually people dressed in skins.
The dancing bears festival takes place every December. It’s a celebration that ushers in hope for a good new year ahead. Visitors come from as far away as Japan for the sight. They see rows and rows of gaping jaws and claws. Giant red pom-pom decorations give the furs the look of a marching band.
Some of the bears jokingly growl or pretend to attack onlookers. More festival-goers wear glittering drummers’ costumes or old military outfits. Visitors join in the fun.
Locals say that the bear festival custom dates back to another time when it was believed that wild animals guarded people from misfortune or danger. The nomadic Romani people brought real dancing bears to people’s homes for “luck” and a happy new year. Later, people donned bear fur and danced to fend off evil spirits. Nowadays, the custom lives on as a popular festival that draws crowds of tourists.
Christians know that God is the one who protects from evil—not bears. Superstitions and luck have no power. Only God does. He ordains what happens. Proverbs 16:33 reminds us, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” On the cross, Jesus bore every curse that could be held against us. He promises us blessing. We don’t need good luck.
People once kept real bears in captivity. The bruins danced for audiences. But that tradition was curbed decades ago to halt animal abuse.
Wearing a full-sized bear fur isn’t easy. With both the head and claws included, the fur could weigh up to 110 pounds. And the price might exceed 2,000 euros ($2,100). But even children participate in bear attire.
Locals fear the tradition may disappear. Large numbers of young Romanians leave the country, looking for better lives in wealthier European Union countries.
Brown bears are found all over Romania’s tradition and culture. They often can be seen in real life too—by mountain roads and in forests. At one time, hunters killed too many bears. So authorities issued a ban on bear hunting in 2016. People can hunt bears only when populations grow too large.
Animal rights groups worry that the festival fuels bear hunting for costumes. Participants defend the event. They say that most of the furs have been preserved for generations and treated with great care.
Why? Learning about the customs of a culture helps us understand what the people value and fear. That knowledge can prompt compassion and help us spread the good news.
Bears are AWESOME!! I can't believe that the people in Romania do this with the bear skin on them, it's a little crazy.