At my previous job, I had a Bulgarian colleague – who I had the pleasure to have lunch with when visiting Sofia. Every spring she would wear a bracelet made of yarn – two different threads, one white and one red. She explained it was a Spring Bulgarian tradition. The adornment is called Martnitsi and is always given as a gift – from loved ones. These can also be pinned to clothing until the wearer sees a blossoming tree. Then, you would remove the Martenitsi and tie it to the blossoming tree.
So, when I was in Sofia, I was looking out for these little amulets and found them in the most beautiful, blossomed trees. Some say that the red and white are the colours of Mother Nature, with white symbolising the melting snow and red the setting sun, which becomes more intense as Spring advances. Others say that the white symbolizes man and the red woman. I prefer the first explanation.
I absolutely love learning more about these traditions and their origins. Why wearing the red and white colours of the Martenitsa?
It goes back to the legend of Baba Marta (meaning Grandma March). According to Bulgarian folklore, this grandma was a feisty old lady, constantly angry with her two brothers January and February, and when she gets seriously angry the weather breaks.
With folklore, anywhere in the world, there are always different tales connected to the same figure. While I was reading about this, it sounded like the most famous one is one the saddest. Once upon a time an old shepherd decided to take her flocks higher into the mountains in the last days of March – she asked Baba Marta for protection thinking that since she was an old lady herself, she would have her compassion. Instead, Baba Marta god mad for being considered old and asked her younger brother April to borrow a few days – Baba Marta let loose strong winders and blizzards, freezing the poor Sheperd and her flocks in the mountain.
So, when Bulgarians exchange the Martenitsa on the 1st of March (Baba Marta’s Day), it’s usually accompanied by the expression Chestita Baba Marta, meaning Happy Baba Marta. This is so they can all ask for a happy and joyful start of Spring season, with the protection of Baba Marta. The folklore also says that it’s also on the 1st of March that Baba Marta does her pre-spring cleaning and shakes out her mattress for the last time before winter – the feathers of the mattress fall into the ground, symbolising the last snow of the year.
So, if you’re ever travelling through Bulgaria during Spring time, and see the white and red colours of yarn in trees, you will know what it means. I was lucky to have known this through my friend, otherwise I would have been oblivious to it.