As the world uses New Year’s Eve as a time for celebration, excitement and reflection, in Romania it is custom for locals to mark it slightly differently – by dressing up as dancing bears to ward off evil spirits, reported Daily Mail.

In a bizarre ritual every December between Christmas and New Year, Roma gypsies living in Comăneşti, 300km north of Bucharest, in Bacău County, an area known as the Trotus Valley put on real bear skins and parade through the streets.

The festival called Ursul – which is replicated across the country – originated from an ancient Indo-European tribe known as the Geto-Dacians, who believed bears were sacred.

In pre-Christian tradition, the bear was considered sacred and the festival includes singing and dancing to ward off evil. The annual event — which consists of ritual dances and performances — is historically held in small, rural villages where townspeople wear bear furs and parade from house to house.

Villagers would long ago cover a newborn baby with bear fat, to give him strength and luck.

And today they believe bear skins protect them from the spirits they are chasing out of the village. Between Christmas and New Year communities across Romania come together and march as bears.

In the procession the ‘bears’ pretend to roll over and die before they are miraculously resurrected – symbolising the passing of winter and the re-birth of spring.

In recent years, however, dancers have started to travel to Romania’s larger cities to perform the ritual for money.

They and other tribes who lived in what is now Romania and Moldova – then known as Dacia – thought bears were the spirit of the forest and ‘the supreme master of cosmic energy’.