Baba Marta and many folklore traditions have similarities to folktales from other countries and they all make for wonderful and fascinating stories.
Life would always revolve around the growing seasons. It was custom for people to clean their homes towards the end of February. (spring cleaning) What it represented was clearing out the old year and making things tidy and ‘new’ for the coming year in spring.
One of the most well loved customs in Bulgaria is called Baba Marta (Grandma March) which is on the 1st of March and celebrates the coming 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 Small Sechko (February).
Whenever Baba Marta was happy the sun was shining and everything was bright. However when Marta got angry the winter became harsh and long the everything turned white with the freezing cold.
The story goes that during early 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. They would suffer the consequences if she was to carry on.
However the young 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 to be disturbed and so 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. 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.
Origins of the Martenitsa
Bulgaria’s long history has included many wars and battles. It’s not surprising that many legends to the origins of the Martenitsa have arisen from these events.
Read about the LEGEND OF THE MARTENITSA
One story goes that as soldiers were leaving home to fight the next battle their wives would tie red and white cloths around their waists. The red was meant to represent the blood that soldiers shed for the country. The white depicts the ashen faces of those family they have left behind.
The Wearing & Giving of Martenitsa
Martenitsa 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 your first stork. (which migrate to Bulgaria from Africa throughout the spring) Only then should you hang it on a tree which bears fruit or a tree that is in blossom.
The white thread 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.
The white threaded figure represents Pizho the male and the red Penda the female
This color according to popular belief, has the power of the sun and gives vitality to every creature.
In the small villages in the mountains people decorate their houses, children and domestic animals.
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 martinitsi on children hands, get dressed entirely in the colour red.