The above images are of the Bulgarian Kukeri ritual, a means by which, early in the new year, evil spirits are scared away from villages and urban communities. This springtime ritual also personifies fecundity, harvest and fertility. This pagan performance is thought to be extremely old, and could possibly descend from the Hellenistic worship of Dionysius, who was the greek god of wine, ritual madness, intoxication and ecstasy.
It was banned during the Communist era but still survives today. Similar practices can be found throughout the Balkans. Young people (traditionally only men, but now of both sexes) dress up in elaborate, animalistic and celebratory costumes, usually made of goat skin in some way representing the goat. At the culmination of the festival, a kukeri is strapped to a plough, 'dies', and then sprinkled with seeds and is 'reborn'. His goatskin costume is then buried in seven different fields.
Goats play a fascinating role in European paganism. In Finland, Father Christmas (or Santa Claus) traditionally takes the form of a goat, and in Norway, men would dress in goatskins and go from house to house singing songs during the Yule period. In Sweden, a man dressed in goatskins would be 'sacrificed' and 'reborn' in midwinter, and giant goats made of straw often adorn towns at Christmas.
The Christmas Goat at Gävle, Sweden.