Monday, March 1, 2010


BABA MARTA DAY:  In Bulgaria, "mart" is the word for March and "baba" means grandma. In old folklore "Baba Marta" was portrayed as a volatile and moody woman. It is believed that when she was happy, skies were blue and the sun would shine, but when Baba Marta was disgruntled, she would bring rain and wind to the country.

We have heard that Baba Marta Day is a uniquely Bulgarian holiday and under this name that is true. There are however, other countries in the region which have a spring celebration on the first of March with traditions that are close in nature to ours, but celebrated with a different name.

THE TALE: The celebration has its roots in ancient Bulgarian history. There are a variety of tales to explain the celebration but one is that this ritual honors Mars, the god of war and spring. Bulgarians have had a troublesome and war-weary history and it is said that conflicts often started at the beginning of March. As warriors left their wives to go to fight, women gave their husbands red and white strips of cloth to tie round their wrists. Some gave small woolen figures of a girl and a boy. The colors represented the blood of the warriors and the pale faces of the women they were leaving behind.

On March 1, Bulgarians give martenitsi to their family, friends and neighbors. This may be in the form of a simple bracelet of entwined red and white wool or a brooch of red and white wool tassels. Front doors are decorated with enormous red and white pompoms or with woolen dolls called "Pizho and Penda". Pizho is the male doll and is usually crafted from white wool. Penda is the female, red doll and is distinguished by her skirt. Animals are also adorned with their own special martenitsa. Young people and teachers, in particular, can be seen with a wrist full of red and white bracelets. 

Some say that the red and white are the colors of Mother Nature. The white wool represents the melting snow and the red twine represents the setting sun, which becomes more and more intense as spring advances. Others say that the white symbolizes man and the red woman, or that they represent purity and life or health and strength.
When you receive a martenitsa, you must wear it until you see a stork or the first buds of a fruit tree, for they symbolize the true arrival of spring. There are also a number of things you might do with it once you remove it and that seems to be regionally dependent. Here in our region, they are removed (sometimes a whole arms length of them) and hung on the budding tree, while making a wish.

School children sing songs to Baba Marta throughout the month of March and some still make their own martenitsi, but most purchase them from street vendors and the holiday has become far more commercialized. Today’s martenitsi may incorporate fancy beads and popular characters like Spiderman or Barbie. The sidewalks are lined with vendors all selling virtually the same merchandize. It is hard to imagine how each of them can make any money, but they apparently do.  It is clear that when the holiday passes, the merchandize is packed up, stored and brought out again one year from now. 


Anonymous said...

I hope you get two arms worth of Martenitsi! Estelle

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for explaining this celebration. I could not understand what celebration was happening around me. A happy "Happy Baba Marta Month" to all!