The 1st of March is the unofficial beginning of spring. It is the Day of Baba Marta (Grandma March). It is believed that Baba Marta is a grumpy and limping old woman whose mood changes very rapidly. According to a legend she has two brothers Big and Small Sechko (actually January and February) who always drink wine (what else in Bulgaria?) and never leave anything for her. That is the reason why she is so peevish. If her mood becomes better, the sun shines, but if she is angry, the sky becomes overcast and the rain comes. And because she is very moody the “April” weather is typical for March in Bulgaria!
If you go out into Bulgarian streets on the 1st of March, nature is waking up, people are putting tables in front of cafés and they pin red and white fringes on their clothing. Those are called martenitsa, which also comes from the word mart (March). Doing this they are asking Baba Marta for mercy hoping she will chase away the winter faster and bring the spring. The beginning of this custom is connected with several legends. Most of them are about Asparuh – the first ruler of the First Bulgarian kingdom. He sent a dove with a white thread to announce his victory or to bring the message that he did not die in battle. The bird got hurt on its flight and the thread becomes red. That is how the first martenitsa was created!
The white colour of martenitsa symbolizes purity and happiness, the red colour health, fertility and vitality. As is customary, Bulgarians do not buy these small pieces of adornment for themselves. They are always given as gifts to loved ones, friends and colleagues with the saying: Chestita Baba Marta! It means they wish health, good luck and happiness. They send it per post or even per E-mail. They wear the martenitsa pinned to their clothing or bound around the wrist. TV speakers and even the president are wearing a martenitsa on this day. The simplest one is made of two twined red and white threads from wool, sometimes with a small coin or a blue bead. Another typical martenitsa consists of two small woolly dolls – the male Pizho is usually predominantly white and the female Penda – red. Nowadays there is a wider variety of forms and sizes. In villages, people decorate their houses and even their domestic animals with martenitsa.
Martenitsa is worn until the wearer first sees a stork, swallow or a blossoming tree, which are the real symbols of the spring. After that people tie it on a fruit tree or the more superstitious ones put it under a stone. The next day they come and watch which kind of creature (usually an insect) is closest to the martenitsa. If it is a larva, worm or an ant, everything is o.k. – the person can be looking forward to a good year. However, if a spider is there, trouble is to be expected. 🙂
Foto: © Katka
Bulgarians are pretty superstitious – another custom is that you have to choose a day from the 1st until the 22nd March (when the spring really starts) and then you watch the weather on the chosen day. If the sun shines, the year will be good for you, if it is bad, the same for the whole year.
Martenitsa belongs to the most popular Bulgarian traditions. Though I am not sure if, with the climate changes going on, Bulgarians will soon start to share martenitsas in February! And how will they call the moody Baba Marta?