Sometime just before spring this year, I received a letter in a sealed envelope addressed to me from a lovely lady, a beautiful friend Eli, (my pet name for her) asking me not to open the envelope until the first of March. In my curiosity, I kept fiddling with the envelope trying to get cues of what may be contained in it. I gave up and decided to be patient. On 1st March, I opened it and found a handmade red and white bracelet made from wool and a letter in it.
From Miss Petrova, the one who cares for me
It was a letter written from Eli to me and it read::
Chestita Baba Marta, June (In Bulgaria: Честита Баба Марта , June)
(This is something little from Bulgaria)
On the first of March, Bulgarian people celebrate a traditional holiday called Baba Marta (or Grandma Marta in English) and it is related to welcoming the approaching spring. People all over the world meet spring with joy and new hopes but in Bulgaria, it is saved as an ancient tradition.
On that day, Bulgarians exchange so called “Martenitsi” (“Martenitsa”- singular, “Martenitsi”- plural) and tell each other, Chestita Baba Marta!” (Happy Grandma Marta).
This custom is essentially to wish great health, good luck and happiness to family and friends. The name “Martenitsa” is taken from the Bulgarian word for March, or as a legend tells, an angry old lady called Grandma Marta- Baba Marta in Bulgarian (“baba” means grandmother and Marta comes from the word “mart”, which means March in Bulgarian)
In Bulgarian folklore, Baba Marta is a grumpy old woman who changes her mood very rapidly and it reflects in the changeable March weather. When she is smiling the weather sunny and warm, but if she gets angry, the cold will stay for longer and it may even snow. By wearing the red and white colours of the Martenitsa, our predecessors asked Baba Marta for mercy. They hoped that it will make winter pass faster and bring spring.
The Martenitsa is made of twined red and white threads- woollen, silk, or cotton. The white is a symbol of strength, purity and happiness. The red is associated with health, blood, conception, and fertility.
The most typical Martenitsa represents two small wool dolls – Pizho and Penda. Pizho is the male doll, usually dominating in white colour. Penda is the female doll, usually dominating in red colour and distinguished by her skirt. There are many other variations and forms. Out of twined red and white threads are also made bracelets, necklaces, tassels, pompons, balls, squares, human or animal figures. Over the past several decades, the tradition has been innovated by attaching all kinds of representations and symbols made of wood, leather, ceramics, and metal foil to the thread-made Martenitsas.
When someone gives you a Martenitsa, you should wear it either pinned on your clothes, on the hand tied around the wrist, or around your neck until you see a stork or a fruit tree in blossom for the first time in the season. After that you can tie it on a blossoming tree for fertility. It is believed that the Martenitsa brings health, happiness and longevity. Like kind of an amulet, Martenitsa was attributed to a magic power believed to protect folks from “ill fortune”, diseases and an “evil eye”.
The custom of wearing Martenitsa is probably one of the most interesting Bulgarian (pagan) traditions and it is considered to be unique to Bulgaria. According to one of the many legends, this tradition is also related to the finding of the Bulgarian state in 681AD.
This exceptional piece of folklore /folktale became an education. A fact. This story was re-authored by Eli in a personalised letter to me. It left me fascinated into this revelation of how beautiful Eli and her people are. It’s the little things that matter…
Lover of culture#, lover of tradition#, lover of people#Jtheexplorer#
Written March 2015