Bulgaria Celebrates Baba Marta

Society | March 1, 2022, Tuesday // 08:58
Bulgaria: Bulgaria Celebrates Baba Marta

Every year on March 1, Bulgarians are decorated with white and red martenitsas. For health, for joy and with a premonition of the end of winter and the onset of spring. How ancient this Bulgarian tradition is, hardly anyone can say.

According to an old legend, Thracians located on Bulgarian lands tied themselves martenitsas. They always wore martenitsas during the spring, which symbolized the end of the cold and the awakening of nature to new life. Orpheus himself decorated his lyre with martenitsas. According to the ancients, it symbolized the infinity of life and immortality of the human spirit in the combination of white and red thread.

A more recent legend links the martenitsa to the arrival of Asparuh's Bulgarians on the Balkan Peninsula. These legends are not one or two. When the proto-Bulgarians reached the Danube plain, they were enchanted by its beauty. They chose this place to light a pagan fire. It was believed that around the fire the god Tangra (or Tengri) chose those who would be under his protection. Then the celebration began. Many people gathered. They brought fruits and vegetables, animals. The bleating of the lambs and the howling of the animals spread around. The women prepared bread, and the men kept the fire burning and spit large pieces of meat on skewers. There was bread and meat for everyone. The flames of the fire rose higher and higher. Only the Khan was not cheerful. He did not have the herb that grew in abundance in his native steppe. According to an old custom, he was to lay it next to the sacrificial offerings. He had to thank Tangra for this land, as was the custom of his ancestors. That is why the mighty khan was saddened. But suddenly a colorful bird flew up to him and spoke in a human voice: “Don't be sad, great khan. I have fast and strong wings. I flew with you all the way to help you in a difficult moment. Tie a white string around my neck, I will fly to the Volga, to your sister, and I will send greetings from you and your party.” The khan tied a white string to the neck of the wonderful bird, it flew to the sky and soon disappeared from view. Time passed and the bird returned: “Rejoice, great khan! Untie the white string and take the stalk of the herb. You will also find a red string - greetings from your sister and your relatives.” The khan took the stalk of the herb and presented it as a gift. And he kept the white and red thread, believing that they would bring him health and happiness. There are several legends about Asparuh's Bulgarians and the martenitsa.

More recently, it is another tale of Baba (Grandmother) Marta. Marta lived with her brothers far away in the mountains. Her brothers had one name - Sechko. But one was called small, and the other - big Sechko. From the high mountain they saw and heard everything that was happening on earth. If Marta smiled, she gently stroked both bugs and weeds. She warmed the space with her kind smile, the sun shone goldenly, the birds flew merrily. Once a young nimble bride drove her sheep to the mountains, the warm sun was shining, birds were singing, so that the grass would graze the goods. “Don't take out the flock, bride, it's early to graze! Soon Sechko will be gone,” her father-in-law said. “The autumn crocuses are blooming now, daughter-in-law,” the old man reminded her warmly. “It's a false flower. If it doesn’t bloom, don't believe in it” “Well, father-in-law, what will Martha do to me? She is a woman and she cannot do harm to a woman” - said the bride and picked up the sheep and goats up the mountain. Martha heard these words and longed for her. It doesn't matter that she is a woman, and she can conquer the sun like her brothers, and she has the power to sow storms and she knows when to send solar grace. So what if women speak to her! Not much has passed. Dark clouds hung over the mountain. Winds blew the relentlessly swollen forest, icy snow fell, and a harsh winter set in. The ground froze, the birds fell silent, the murmur of the stream ceased. The rebellious young shepherd never returned. She remained frozen with her sheep up in the mountains.

This is how the custom of making martenitsas remained so that Baba Marta would be happy and bring only good things to the people.

The old Bulgarians believed that there was an evil force in nature called “evilness” (loshotiya), which also awoke in the spring, and in folk beliefs, March 1 marks the beginning of spring. Martenitsas were credited with the magical power to protect against evilness, especially diseases and spells. Martenitsas are removed only when the first stork is seen and after that they are hung on a blossoming or green tree, or placed under a stone. Some of the customs of March 1, related to the expulsion of evil forces, include lighting a fire and burning garbage in the yard, and then all the people jump over the embers. The fortune-telling custom of choosing a day is also widespread.

The custom of tying martenitsa is known not only in Bulgaria but also in Romania, Moldova, Albania, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia. In Romania, they are tied to the hands of women and young children, while in Greece they are tied only to the hands of children.


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Tags: martenitsas, Baba Marta, Bulgaria, tradition

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