Many folklore traditions have similarities to folk tales from other countries and they all make for wonderful stories. One of the most highly valued customs in Bulgaria is called Baba Marta (Grandma March) starting on the 1st of March and celebrating the beginning of spring.
Baba Marta (Баба Марта) Folk Tale
In Bulgarian folklore the month of March is represented by a very old lady known as Baba Marta.
Baba Marta lived high up in the mountains with her two brothers – Big Sechko (January) and the other one – Small Sechko (February).
Whenever Baba Marta was happy the sun was shining and everything was bright. However when Marta got angry the land became white and the weather freezing cold.
Always Listen to Your Father
The story goes that towards the end of March a young maiden from the local village decided to take her sheep up into the mountains. Her father told her, that it was much too early to do such a thing and that this would anger Baba Marta, and that they would suffer the consequences.
However the maiden was stubborn and didn’t listen to her father and left with the sheep for the mountain.
As her father had predicted, Baba Marta got so angry that she sent all the blizzards and ice storms after the maiden. The earth froze, the birds stopped their singing and hid in silence, the rivers stopped running and quickly turned to ice, and as for the maiden, she remained forever in the mountains as a frozen stone.
From then on, on the first day of March people exchange martenitsa in order to keep Baba Marta happy and calm.
The Wearing & Giving of Martenitsa
Martenitsi are red and white coloured bands or figurines that symbolise health and happiness, a lucky charm against evil spirits. They are given away to friends and family and are worn around the wrist or on clothes.
One has to wear it from March 1 until the end of the month. You can wear it on your wrist as a bracelet, on your coat or on your blouse. You are only supposed to take it off when you see a stork. Then you have to hang it on a tree which bears fruit or a tree that is in blossom.
The martenitsa tradition is thought to have been inspired by Bulgaria’s first ruler Khan Asparuh, who sent a white string to his wife to tell her he survived a battle.
In the small villages in the mountains people decorate their houses, children and domestic animals.
The white color is a sign of beauty, symbolizes purity, innocence and joy. The red one is the color of vitality, health, love, victory, life and courage, the light of a rising or setting sun.
This color according to popular belief, has the power of the sun and gives vitality to every creature.
Regional Martenitsa Customs
In some parts of Bulgaria people use different colors instead of red and white yarn
In the town Razgrad at sunrise every housewife throws red fabric on one of the fruit trees in the garden, and shouts“ laugh Baba Marta.”
In Trojan on 1st March just before sunrise, the mistress of every house ties red wool locks on fruit trees or on the horns of cattle.
In Haskovo, Grandmothers, who earlier tie martenitsi on children hands, get dressed entirely in the colour red.