History · Traditions

Baba Marta- a red & white ritual

On the 1st  of March the Bulgarians have a special celebration called Baba Marta (Баба Марта), and if you visit Bulgaria during spring you will definitely see martenitsa´s everywhere, red and white threads, bracelets and tassels hanging in trees and witness of of an ancient tradition that still lives on in Bulgaria.

The Legend of Baba Marta

Baba Marta is a ritual to welcome the spring, and means “Granny March”. March is being referred as unpredictable month when it comes to the weather, since it change rapidly and can be both snowy and cold as well as warm and sunny. The legend tells us that Baba Marta saw and heard everything that was happening in the world, when she was happy and smiled the sun was shining in gold, the bird was singing and the grass was greener then ever. But when she was angry, the sky was full of dark clouds, winds and blizzards whipped the woods, the earth froze cold and the birds were no longer singing.

The Ritual of Martenitsa

This is an old ancient ritual that goes back thousands of years til when Bulgaria was a pagan country. In order to please Baba Marta and make sure that she would be happy and make the sun shine the Bulgarians came up with the idea of this ritual. On the 1st of March the old women were twisting threads made out of red and white wool. Meanwhile they were twisting the threads they were casting charms for health and fertility. The red symbolize strength, blood, the sun and warmth, and the white represent good and light. Then they tied this tassels to sheep, cows and orchard trees in order to appease Baba Marta For protection against evil people and disease they tied red threads in front of every house. It was believed that when Baba Marta saw this decoration, she would smile and so would the sun.

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Photo: https://www.google.se/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=0ahUKEwjr2tidpqDLAhULEJoKHZv6BsIQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fen.mallofsofia.bg%2Fnews%2F86-1-30&psig=AFQjCNFGD9BUdhG-MPhYMPnYYZZFwgPuMw&ust=1456947694245939

Baba Marta & Martenitsa in Today´s Bulgaria

The tradition has continued until these days and still on the 1st of March Bulgarians celebrate the spring by making bracelets and adornment made from read and white wool. In today´s Bulgaria the red represent love, health, friendship and longevity, and the white is a symbol of purity of relations between people. Bulgarians collect the Martenitsa (Мартеница) and gather together with friends and family to give the martenitsa´s to each other as a token of how much they care for each other. The person to receive the martenitsa gives the hand to the person that are about to give it, the receiver makes a silent wish as the other person tie the martenitsa bracelet around the hand. Then they wish each other health and prosperity. You are suppose to carry the martenitsa around your hand until you see the first blooming tree or the first stork, after that you remove the martenitsa and put it under a big stone, after 9 days go back to the stone and see how many bugs there are, the greater will the fertility during the farming season. Other people throw them into a river, lake or sea which symbolize a life that floats smoothly. The most common is to hang the martenitsa´s in a fruit tree for fertility of the fruit season.

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Photo: http://www.live-from-campus.eduniversal-ranking.com/live-from-international-university-college/events-arts-sports/grandma-marta-baba-marta-in-iuc.html

Every Bulgarian carries at least 1 martenitsa around the hand, some people have almost their whole arm covered in martenitsa´s. And if you are you are in Bulgaria in the spring you will see the martenitsa´s covering almost every tree. Many tourist asks about this view (and so did I the first time I was in Bulgaria). Martenitsa´s is a big thing and you can buy adornments everywhere. Some people start to experiment with new colorful threads, wooden pellets, beads, plastic images of cartoons and famous people, such as Vladimir Putin etc. Many Bulgarians decorate their windows, cars and pets with martenitsa´s, and you will also find them hanging stores and at cafes.

Pizho and Penda

The most common shape of the martenisa´s is the ring which you put around the hand as a bracelet but there other variations of them such as tassels and bead shaped. If you are in Bulgaria you will most likely see a couple in red and white, these couple are being referred to as Pizho and Penda and represent fertility which they incorporate on the harvest of fruits and vegetables. In some parts of Bulgaria they put blue beads or coins into the martenitsa´s against the evil eye.

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Photo: https://openworlden.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/baba-marta-day/

 

Честита Баба Марта, весела и червена (happy Baba Marta)! Here follows a video on how to make martenitsa. Hope you all had a good 1st of March and that spring is upon us!

 

Sources for this article:

http://www.feelthebalkans.com/blog/the-martenitsa-ritual-welcoming-the-spring-in-bulgaria

http://bnr.bg/en/post/100336855/martenitsa-the-uniquely-bulgarian-symbol

 

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