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The Bulgarian Tradition of Martenitsa – living in Bulgaria

Bulgarian people celebrate the day of Baba Marta (baba means ‘Grandma’ and Marta means ‘March’)

Every year on 1st of March, Bulgarian people celebrate a centuries-old tradition called the day of Baba Marta. Baba means ‘Grandma’ and Marta means ‘March’. The holiday is related to sending off the winter and welcoming the approaching spring. It is an old Bulgarian tradition, and all foreigners living in Bulgaria have wondered about it.

Wearing and giving martenitsas

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On that day and a few days afterwards, Bulgarians exchange and wear the so-called “Martenitsas.” People make Martenitsa with decorative pieces of red and white twisted thread. It symbolises health and happiness and is a lucky charm against evil spirits. Friends, family, and colleagues give Martenitsas to each other. We wear Martenitsas around our wrists or on our clothes. In some villages in the mountains people decorate their houses and domestic animals.

Red and white threads – woolen, silk, or cotton – are twined to make Martenitsa. The most typical Martenitsa represents two small dolls, known as Pizho and Penda. Pizho is the male doll, usually in white colour. Penda is the female doll, usually in red colour and distinguished by her skirt.

Martenitsas come in a variety of shapes and sizes: bracelets, necklaces, tassels, pompoms and balls. The white is a symbol of purity, innocence, beauty and joy. The red is associated with health, vitality, fertility and bravery.

According to the tradition, people wear Martenitsas for a certain period. With the first signs of spring appearing, a stork or a fruit tree in bloom is typically a sign that this period is coming to an end. After that people can tie them on a blossoming tree for fertility thus giving the tree health and luck. Which the person wearing the Martenitsa enjoyed while wearing it.

Baba Marta in the Bulgarian folklore

In Bulgarian folklore, Baba Marta is a mythical figure who brings with her the end of the cold winter and the beginning of spring. Baba Marta is known for her quick temper and grumpy demeanor. Аnd it reflects in the changeable March weather. The belief was that when she was smiling the weather was sunny and warm, but if she got angry the cold would stay longer. By wearing the red and white colours of the Martenitsa, our predecessors asked Baba Marta for mercy. They hoped that it would make winter pass faster and bring spring.

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Young and old would take care to keep Baba Marta in a good mood. Young would get up early before anybody else in order to meet the first day of March. And rejoice Baba Marta with their youth and beauty. Old women would knit twisted strands of red and white threads to decorate the house. People believed that they protected against diseases and evil forces. The housewives used to hang out red aprons, belts, rugs or twisted threads in front of their houses. Hoping that when Baba Marta saw them, she would laugh and make the Sun shine bright again.

The legend

The custom of wearing Martenitsa is probably one of the most interesting Bulgarian traditions. One legend holds that the Bulgarian state was founded in 681 AD and this tradition is associated with it. Ahinora, the wife of Khan Asparuh, made the first martenitsa. He was the founder of Bulgaria in the second half of the 7th century, when he crossed the Danube and found the Bulgarian lands. Ahinora, while waiting for her husband, decided to send him wishes for good health and prosperity. She tied a twisted white and red thread to the leg of a swallow and send the bird to deliver the message for health and love.

If you are living in Bulgaria is always good to know the traditions and the legends and stories behind them.

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