Springtime in Bulgaria is closely related with celebrating «Baba Marta» holiday, as well as gifting friends and relatives with homemade traditional bracelets. Warm weather comes to Balkans very early, sun warms up every day more and more, nature wakes up, snowdrops blooms, but any moment the cold can return. Changeable weather conditions are reflected in the folk spirit character — Baba Marta.
«Baba» means an old lady, while «Marta» is a name, based on month, according to bulgarian language. All the locals know the story about an old shepherdess, who led a herd high up to the mountains at the beginning of March. Goats disturbed the spirit of Baba Marta and made her very angry. She «borrowed» several cold days from her brother February to freeze uninvited guests to death. So, it is believed that during few first days of March old women should stay at home in order «not to piss off Baba Marta» and do not provoke her to spoil the weather. «Chestita Baba Marta!» (Merry Baba Marta!) — locals say to congratulate each other with the biginning of spring. First of March is also a name-day for all the Martas in Bulgaria.
With on coming of spring, traditional wristband — martenitsa, sells far and near. Street bazaars are opens in big cities. It is believed, that martenitca, presented with the right wishes, could be a strong amulet. Such bracelet is also known as martinka, martica, kichilka, bainica, fortuneteller, marta.
Traditional martenitsa is made of two woolen threads, red and white, plaited together. Such bracelet is quite inexpensive, the price is around 1–2 BGN (0,5–1€). Sellers, are offering lots of bijou types, as many as possible. Decoration is based on popular trends, various «bonuses» added to the traditional base. Unfortunately, the opportunity to buy a ready made bracelet in a supermarket contributes to the disappearance of traditional, handmade, martenitsas. Nowadays, many Bulgarian Martenitsa are produced in China.
To attract the attention of the smallest customers, martinitsas are decorated with popular cartoons characters. Female bracelets are decorated with charms, copying «Pandora» trend, while men prefers simple traditional style — red and white woolen threads woven into a bundle, wooden button as a lock. During March, the entire population of Bulgaria, wears such bracelets without taking off. They say that the more bracelets on a hand the more spring magic is accumulated :)
Penda & Pizho
In addition to bracelets, paired dolls, made of woolen threads are also very popular. Such type of martenitsa is attached to clothes with a pin. The white doll is symbolized a man and called Pigo. His girlfriend or sister is red, called Penda. Red is a symbol of life, while white is a happiness and spiritual purity. Sometimes dolls are replaced with a pair of tassels tied together. It’s made in especially large sizes for home decoration.
Streets, squares, cafés and other public places are also decorated with martenitsa. Banks give to customers bracelets with corporate symbols. Some locals decorating cat and dogs. Gypsies plait tassels and pompons into horse harness.
The tradition of exchanging martenitsa is very popular among school students: Bulgarian children generously decorate themselves and others with bracelets. In some schools and kindergartens, the production of martenitsas is included into the compulsory program. Following «Baba Marta» tradition, Viber released a special free sticker pack with congratulations.
Martenitsa stickers for Viber
According to legend, the bracelet protects against diseases and the evil eye. In some cases, a red-white string is wrapped around water jugs, tied around a tree trunk to make it fruitful. Sometimes martenitsa is used on a wedding ceremony.
There is an opportunity to make a wish or predict the future at the end of the «Baba Marta» ritual. According to tradition, wishes have to be made at the moment of the first stork is noticed (there are surprisingly lots of them in Bulgaria). Then, the bracelet have to be tied on the nearest blooming fruit tree. There is also an option to let the martenitsa into the river or bury it. To tell fortune bracelet is left under the stone. After one month you have to came back and check the ground, it there are ants the year would be successful.
During blooming time many trees are decorated with martenitsas. Local holy places are decorated especially richly. However, there is an important rule that spring magic will work only if the bracelet is received as a gift with good withes. It means you can’t buy it for yourself.
Greek bracelet «Μαρτιά»
In addition to Bulgaria, the holiday is popular in other Balkan countries — Greece, Macedonia, Albania, Romania. Greeks believe, that tradition of wearing a red bracelet in spring, firstly appeared on their territory. A swallow bird plays here the role of stork. At the end of ritual the bracelet is bounding especially on a rose bush. Greek Μαρτιά bracelets often contain an image of a Turkish eye or a flying bird. In Romania martenits are worn on the wrist by women only, while men traditionally hide them under the clothes.
Some researchers explaining this tradition as a historical trace of the Roman New Year (which was celebrated on March 1). Another myth connecting martenitsa holiday with Bulgarian khan Asparuh. However, regardless the origin of tradition, it is nice to touch the ancient magic of spring amulets.