March 1 - the "Martenitsa" Day

If you by any chance visit Bulgaria on the first day of March you will certainly notice almost every person decorated with small tokens made from red and white woolen threads. Then from late March to mid-April, you will notice many fruit trees and shrubs decorated with these same tokens.

March 1st is known as the "Baba Marta" Day in Bulgaria – so, on the very March 1st, as well as the days following, all people give each other red-and-white tokens in the form of strips, ornaments or a pair of small woolen dolls, traditionally called “Pizho” (the male character) and “Penda” (the female one), also known by the name Martenitsas.

According to tradition, Marta (the female of the word “Mart”, the Bulgarian for March) is an angry old lady who rapidly changes her mood from worst to best and back again. She is popular all around Bulgaria as "Grandmother Martha" (or "Baba Marta" in Bulgarian).

According to the typically Bulgarian belief, spring comes with the arrival of Baba Marta. Her dual image of both merry and mischievous, of simultaneously approving and denying character, represents the woman as the beginning of life, as well as the elemental devastating beginning at large.

March is traditionally believed to be the only “female” month of the year - the month of conception of spring, the month of land giving birth to summer and fruitfulness. The red-and-white woolen token called “Martenitsa” [mar-te-NIi-tsa], named after the name of the month “Mart”, is the very sign of the coming March - the symbol of the wakening of the earth for a new life as well as the cult to the Sun.

The white color of the Martenitsa initially symbolized the human nature, the strength and the light solar zone. Later, influenced by Christian mythology, it became the symbol of virginity and virtuousness – the white color is the color of Christ.

The red color in the Martenitsa was chosen to represent health and the woman’s nature - it is a sign of blood, conception and birth. The women’s wedding dresses and traditional costumes used to be red once upon a time.

Traditionally, the Martenitsa has always been a unique amulet that was believed to provide protection from the powers of evil. The wearing of a Martenitsa used to be a kind of a magical ritual act: the twisted white and red woolen threads protected the person from the mechanisms of black magic.
Young mothers and children tie a Martenitsa around their wrists. The white thread in the Martenitsa promises long life while the red one is a means of protection against illnesses and is supposed to give health and strength, so cherished at the end of the winter season when the power of life has depleted.

Once we have had our Martenitsas pinned on our clothing or tied around our wrists (it is usually the right wrist we are supposed to put the Martenitsa on), we have to keep them there until we see some sign of spring - such as a crane or swallow, or a blossoming tree.

Only after seeing that sign, do we remove the Martenitsas, as only then we know for sure that spring has truly arrived. After seeing a crane or swallow, or a blossoming tree, we are supposed to tie our Martenitsas on a fruit tree, and make a good wish, which is believed to always come true.

Enjoy the feast of spring with your red-and-white tokens – the beautiful Martenitsas!