Since today is 1st March, I think it is necessary to dedicate a post to this special day in the Bulgarian ancient culture. On 1st March, Bulgarians celebrate “Baba Marta” (meaning Grandma March), which is a welcoming custom of the upcoming spring. The tradition includes exchanging of “martenitzi” (plural) in the first days of March (especially on 1st).
The martenitza (singular) is the symbol of Baba Marta and is always in red and white. It could be in the shape of a bracelet (red and white thread twisted together), a brooch (the typical one represents two dolls of a boy and a girl made of red and white yarn, called Pizho and Penda) or a necklet. The white colour symbolises purity and prosperity and the red symbolises blood, passion and life in general (red and white are also two of the three colours on the Bulgarian flag- White, Green, Red). The two together are heralds of the spring and are believed to bring health to the one wearing them. That is why people exchange martenitzi with their family, friends and those they feel close to. The martenitza should be worn until one sees a stork or a swallow and should then tie it to a blossoming tree.
Since I was a child Baba Marta has been one of my favourite traditions as I was waking with a martenitza on my hand in the morning on 1st March. I was told that during the night Baba Marta came and tied martenitza on my hand so that I am rosy and smiling throughout the whole year. According to the belief, Baba Marta is an old, moody woman who is very good and hardworking, but very furious as well. She is changing her moods very rapidly, which is why Bulgarians believe the weather is so changeable in March- sometimes it’s sunny and warm (Baba Marta is smiling) and in the next minute, it becomes windy and snowy (Baba Marta is angry). Due to this, the month of March is called the female month. According to my observations though, Baba Marta is always happy on 1st March as it is always sunny and warm, just like today.
The origin of the “martenitza” tradition dates back to 681AD during the time of the Bulgarian Khan Asparuh. The Khan’s sister, Huba, had a prophetic dream related to the pagan god Tangra so she decided to send a falcon to her brother with a sprig of dill (traditionally used in the sacrificial pyre for Tangra) and a white thread tied to its leg. However, the falcon was hit by an arrow, which didn’t kill it but coloured part of the thread red with blood. Despite the wound, the brave falcon reached the Khan who tied the thread to his hand. It is believed since then, the Bulgarians started wearing red and white threads, twisted together. During its 1300 years of existence, Bulgaria has shared lands with other countries, that is why some of them also hold the tradition (e.g. Greece, Romania, Macedonia etc.).
Traditions are very important for the survival of nations. Nowadays when everything is so blurred and people lack values and beliefs, some traditions help us to remember who we are. As Henry James says: “It takes an endless amount of history to make even a little tradition.” And our history is more than 1300 years old…
L. V. K.