March 1: Baba Marta Enters the Scene, Brings Spring Along
On the 1st of March Bulgarian people celebrate a centuries-old traditional holiday called the day of Baba Marta (or Grandma March), related to welcoming the approaching spring. On that day and a few days afterwards, Bulgarians exchange and wear the so called "Martenitsas" – red and white twisted threads, symbolising health and happiness, a lucky charm against evil spirits. The Martnitsas are given away to friends, family and colleagues and are worn around the wrist or on clothes. In some villages in the mountains people decorate their houses and domestic animals.
Martenitsa is made of twined red and white threads - woolen, silk, or cotton. The white is a symbol of strength, purity and happiness. The red is associated with health, blood, conceiving and fertility. Martenitsa is also a symbol of Mother Nature. During early spring nature revives and seems full of hopes and expectations. According to this interpretation, the white symbolises the purity of the melting white snow and the red symbolises the setting of the sun which becomes more and more intense as spring progresses. These two natural resources are the source of life. White and red threads are also associated with the male and female beginnings.
The most typical Martenitsa represents two small dolls, known as Pizho and Penda. Pizho is the male doll, usually in white color. Penda is the female doll, usually in red color and distinguished by her skirt. Martenitsas come in a variety of shapes and sizes: bracelets, necklaces, tassels, pompons and balls.
In Bulgarian folklore, Baba Marta is a mythical figure who brings with her the end of the cold winter and the beginning of spring. Baba Marta is believed to be a grumpy old lady whose moods swing very quickly and it reflects in the changeable March weather. People called the month Baba Marta. The belief was that when she was smiling the weather was sunny and warm, but if she got angry the cold would stay longer. By wearing the red and white colors of the Martenitsa our predecessors asked Baba Marta for mercy. They hoped that it would make winter pass faster and bring spring. Young and old would take care to keep Baba Marta in a good mood. Young would get up early before anybody else in order to meet the first day and rejoice Baba Marta with their youth and beauty. Old women would knit twisted strands of red and white threads to decorate the house. They were believed to protect people from diseases and evil forces.
According to the tradition people wear Martenitsas for a certain period, the end of which is usually associated with the first signs of spring – seeing a stork or a fruit tree in blossom. After that people can tie them on a blossoming tree for fertility thus giving the tree health and luck, which the person wearing the Martenitsa has enjoyed himself while wearing it.
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