During the January carnival period, During the January carnival period, bell ringers march through the villages that dot the Kastav region in north-west Croatia.
Clothed in sheepskin throws with bells around their waists and sporting distinctive hats embellished with sprigs of evergreen, two to more than thirty ringers swagger in groups behind a guide carrying a small evergreen tree. They enliven their gait by bumping each others' hips rhythmically and leaping into the air as they walk. Groups may also include theatrical characters such as a prankster 'bear' who regularly escapes the control of his two 'guards'. When they reach a village, the bell ringers form concentric circles in the town square, ringing fiercely until the residents offer them food and a chance to rest before they continue their journey. At the end of the carnival, the ringers proceed through their own village, collecting rubbish at each house and burning it out front, involving everyone present in the ceremony. With variations distinctive to each village, the annual carnival bell ringers' pageant is a way to strengthen bonds within the community and a valuable means of renewing friendships among the towns in the region while integrating newcomers into its traditional culture.
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