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What is bear Week?

Bear week is an annual event celebrating bear culture that takes place in Provincetown, Massachusetts. It is a week-long festival held in July or August that attracts thousands of hairy, heavyset gay and bisexual men, also known as “bears”, from around the world. The events are focused around body positivity, inclusiveness, and having fun.

When and Where Does Bear Week Take Place?

Bear Week takes place every summer in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Provincetown is a small town located at the northernmost tip of Cape Cod that has been a popular LGBTQ vacation destination since the 1960s. Bear Week typically occurs sometime between mid-July and late August each year.

The dates for Bear Week change each year but generally run for 6-7 days. In 2023, Bear Week is scheduled for July 10-16. The dates are set by the Provincetown Business Guild, the organization that promotes tourism and organizes major events in Provincetown.

Most of the Bear Week events take place along Provincetown’s Commercial Street, the town’s central drag lined with shops, restaurants, and bars. However, events also take place at pool parties, boat cruises, tea dances, and more throughout the week.

What is the History of Bear Week?

Bear Week first started in July 2004 as a way to celebrate bear culture and create a welcoming space for hairy, heavier-set men in Provincetown. It was founded by a group of local business owners and members of the bear community.

Provincetown has long been a popular summer getaway for gay men. In the early 2000s, parties and events started emerging that specifically catered to bears and their admirers. This eventually developed into a full week of bear-centric events and celebrations, becoming known as Bear Week.

The first Bear Week in 2004 included a couple dozen different events at clubs, restaurants, guesthouses, and other venues around Provincetown. It proved very popular, attracting several thousand attendees in its inaugural year. This established Bear Week as an annual tradition.

Over the years, Bear Week has continued to grow significantly. In 2022, the event attracted over 10,000 bears and bear enthusiasts to Provincetown for the week long celebration.

What Kinds of Events Happen During Bear Week?

There are dozens of different events that take place during Bear Week celebrating all aspects of bear culture. Here are some of the most popular types of events:

  • Pool parties – Daytime pool parties at guesthouses and hotels with DJs, dancing, sunbathing, and lots of furry guys in swimsuits.
  • Club parties – Special theme parties at Provincetown’s nightclubs and circuit parties.
  • Bear contests – Contests like “Bear of the Year” and “Hairiest Bear.”
  • Drag shows – Performances by bearded drag queens.
  • Leather events – Fetish parties and gatherings for kink enthusiasts.
  • Dances – Afternoon tea dances and evening dances with live DJs.
  • Boat cruises – Cruises out into Provincetown harbor for daytime floating parties.
  • Burlesque – Burlesque performers and boylesque (for male burlesque) shows.
  • Bear history talks – Educational events about the history of bear culture.
  • Meet and greets – Opportunities to meet fellow hairy guys.

In addition to scheduled events, many bears simply hang out at Provincetown’s beaches, restaurants, and shops during the week. Commercial Street becomes filled with “bears on the prowl” checking out the action.

What is Bear Culture?

Bear culture refers to the social community, events, and media surrounding bears, who are stout, hairy men who embrace their larger bodies and natural masculinity. Bear culture emerged from the gay men’s community in the 1980s.

Some of the hallmarks of bear culture include:

  • Body positivity – Bears reject conventional standards of attractiveness and celebrate larger, hairier men.
  • Inclusiveness – Bear culture embraces men of all ages, sizes, and body types.
  • Masculinity – Traditional masculine qualities like facial/body hair, confidence, and natural rougher appearance are prized.
  • Comradery – There is a warm, welcoming vibe within bear social gatherings.
  • Sex positivity – Open sexuality at bear events and spaces.
  • Leather/fetish scenes – There is some overlap between bears and the leather/kink communities.

Beyond a shared appreciation of bigger, harrier men, bear culture is largely about building community. There are bear events like Bear Week that allow gay and bi men who identify as bears to celebrate shared interests and meet like-minded guys in an inclusive, body positive environment.

Who Identifies as a Bear?

There is no strict set of requirements to identify as a bear – it’s more about an overall attitude and sense of belonging. However, some general qualities help define who identifies as a bear:

  • Physical appearance – Bears tend to be more hairy, heavyset or chubby, and embrace a masculine look (beards, etc).
  • Gender – Most bears identify as male and align with conventional masculine gender expression.
  • Sexual orientation – Bears are almost exclusively homosexual, either gay or bisexual.
  • Age – Historically bears were 30-50 years old, but today all adult ages identify as bears.
  • Interests – Bears share common interests like sports, cars, camping, and being part of the bear community.

Importantly, self identification as a bear is what matters most according to the subculture. There is no litmus test for being a bear – it’s about feeling you belong to and align with bear culture.

History of Bear Culture

Bear culture has its origins in the late 1970s and 1980s within gay male spaces. Groups would informally organize social events for hairier and burlier gay men to connect, rejecting the predominant clean-cut, thin gay ideal of the time.

These groups adopted the bear name from larger, hairier men in the gay community referred to affectionately as “bears”. The name bear stuck as the larger subculture formed throughout the 1980s and 90s, with events, magazines, and spaces celebrating bear identity emerging.

While bears originally referred to a distinct look, today bear culture is more broadly inclusive for gay men who align with the community’s ethos of inclusiveness, positive masculinity, and body positivity. The popularity of Bear Week and other bear events illustrate the continued growth of the subculture celebrating bear identity.

What to Expect at Bear Week as a First-Timer

Attending Bear Week for the first time can be an amazing and eye-opening experience. Here are some things first-time attendees can expect:

  • A warm welcome – The bear community is known for being very open and welcoming. Don’t be shy about introducing yourself.
  • Body positivity – Expect to see men of all shapes and sizes celebrating themselves and each other.
  • Lots of hair – Get ready to see plenty of beards, chest hair, and fuzzy guys.
  • Hell of a party – Bear Week is essentially a huge, week-long party with a fun, friendly vibe.
  • Playful culture – Flirting, cruising for hookups, and public sex are fairly common.
  • Events to enjoy – Make sure to explore the many events, talks, pool parties, and more.
  • No dress code – Attire runs the gamut from full leather to totally nude. Wear what makes you comfortable.

Above all, first-timers should expect a thrilling, eye-opening celebration of hairy men and bear culture with a body positive, welcoming spirit. Keep an open mind, go with the flow, and you’ll have an amazing time as a Bear Week newbie.

Planning Your First Bear Week Trip

Planning your inaugural trip to Bear Week takes a bit of pre-planning. Here are some tips for first-timers:

Book Accommodations Early

Provincetown’s lodging fills up fast for Bear Week, so book a room or guesthouse at least 2-3 months in advance. Many accommodations offer Bear Week packages.

Review the Event Schedule

The Bear Week schedule gets released a few weeks before the event. Review it ahead of time and plan which events most appeal to you.

Arrange Transportation

Figure out your transportation plan – whether driving, flying into Boston and taking a ferry, or coming by bus or train. Allow extra travel time arriving and departing due to crowds.

Budget Accordingly

Between accommodations, parties and events, food, drinks, etc – a Bear Week trip often costs $1,000 or more. Save up and budget ample spending money.

Prepare Your Looks

Bring gear like swimsuits, costumes, harnesses, etc to fully partake in Bear Week’s colorful display of fashion and clothing minimalism.

Read Up on Bear Week

Check out the Bear Week website and blogs/forums to know what to expect. Follow Bear Week on social media for updates leading up to the event.

Fun Bear Week Traditions

Bear Week has developed some fun traditions and signature events over the years. Here are some highlights:

Bear of the Year Contest

This lighthearted contest crowns Bear Week’s hairiest, most charming bear as chosen by judges and attendees.

Bearlesque Shows

Bearlesque combines burlesque with bear culture for hilarious, sexy striptease shows involving beards, bellies, and body hair.

Tea Dance at the Boatslip

The afternoon Tea Dance at the Boatslip resort is one of the most iconic events, with music and hundreds of dancing, partying bears.

Official Bear Week Merchandise

Get your paws on official Bear Week t-shirts, hats, hoodies and other gear.

Late Night Drag Shows

Provincetown’s drag queens put on extra late night adult-themed shows for rowdy, thrilled Bear Week crowds.

Tips for Making the Most of Bear Week

To have an unforgettable Bear Week experience:

  • Attend events early – lines get long for the biggest parties.
  • Pace yourself – it’s a marathon of events, not a sprint.
  • Wear sunscreen – don’t get burned at pool parties.
  • Explore Provincetown – take in the quaint town’s sights.
  • Sample bear culture – chat with attendees from all over.
  • Stay hydrated – drink water between cocktails.
  • Keep an open mind – live it up and go with the flow.
  • Bring condoms/lube – be prepared for potential hookups.
  • Document the fun – take lots of pics to remember the week.
  • Make new friends! – Connect with fellow bears.

Why is Bear Week Considered Controversial?

While hugely popular with attendees, Bear Week has generated some controversy and criticism over the years for a few reasons:

  • Public sex and nudity – There have been complaints about higher incidence of public sex and full nudity during Bear Week.
  • Pool parties gone wild – Some events, like pool parties, have gotten out of hand with drug use and explicit behavior according to critics.
  • Increased petty crime – Provincetown police reported an uptick in public incidents of vandalism, shoplifting, and public urination during past Bear Weeks.
  • Too big for Provincetown – Some argue the 10,000+ crowd overruns the small town’s infrastructure and public services.
  • Offensive themes – There has been controversy when certain events used offensive racial or cultural themes/names.

Supporters counter that Bear Week generates huge tourism revenue for local businesses, most attendees are respectful, and public displays of sexuality would happen regardless of Bear Week. Overall, attendance continues to rise annually indicating Bear Week’s popularity outweighs the criticism.

Impact of COVID-19 on Bear Week

Like most large events, Bear Week was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Normally attracting 10,000+ attendees, Bear Week saw dramatically lower turnout those years due to factors like:

  • Travel restrictions and lockdowns limiting domestic and international visitors
  • Venues and businesses operating at reduced capacity or shut down
  • Health concerns over COVID-19 transmission
  • Cancellation or postponement of specific Bear Week events
  • Much smaller crowds and fewer events overall

However, with COVID conditions improving, Bear Week roared back in summer 2022 seeing strong attendance rebound. Provincetown removed all pandemic restrictions in time for Bear Week 2022. Hotels saw 90%+ occupancy rates again this past summer. Bear Week organizers called 2022 a huge success and indication Bear Week is back in full force post-COVID.

Year Estimated Bear Week Attendance
2019 (pre-COVID) 12,000
2020 3,000
2021 5,000
2022 11,000

Barring another wave of COVID-19, Bear Week in Provincetown looks primed to draw huge lively crowds again for years to come.

Fun Facts About Bear Week

  • Police estimates peg Bear Week’s economic impact on Provincetown as high as $6 million.
  • Bear Week dinner reservations often book up 6 months in advance.
  • The most popular Bear Week t-shirt color tends to be pink or salmon.
  • The Bear Week “Bear Flag” logo includes a silhouette of a bear and rainbow colors.
  • Some bears hibernate after Bear Week to “rest” from all the festivities.
  • Bears travel from as far as Europe, South America, and Australia for Bear Week.
  • You’re likely to see bears in all sorts of colorful costumes or various states of undress.
  • Events often stay packed until 3 or 4AM every morning.
  • The Bear Bar in Provincetown estimates bartenders serve 12,000 cocktails during the week.
  • Scruffy facial hair is part of the look – no beards are fully shaved during Bear Week!


Bear Week offers an amazing, one-of-a-kind annual celebration of bear culture and community. For hairy, heavyset queer men who identify as bears and their admirers, it’s a body positive environment to embrace their identities. With parties, pools, contests, cruises, and camaraderie, the week-long Provincetown tradition provides fun, friendship, and fur – not to mention memories to last a lifetime!