"CHESTITA BABA MARTA"
Happy Baba Marta Day! Today dawned bright and sunny after several days of clouds, rain and even snow. Here in Bulgaria on the 1st of March, Baba Marta Day is celebrated. For those not in the know, that's Grandmother March, the day when martenitsi are exchanged in anticipation of spring, and worn pinned on the clothing or tied on the wrist.
Baba Marta Day is related to welcoming the upcoming spring. The month of March, according to Bulgarian folklore, marks the beginning of springtime, therefore, the first day of March is a traditional holiday associated with sending off winter and welcoming spring.
Wherever you go on this special day you’ll hear people greet each other with words “Chestita Baba Marta!” after which they exchange additional wishes of good health, luck, happiness and protection against evil for friends and family alike, while pinning traditional symbolic charms with tassels called “Martenitsi” (Martenitsa singular, Martenitsi plural) on each other’s clothes. Martenitsi are in the form of yarn tassels, male and female yarn dolls known as Pizho and Penda, or yarn bracelets, but always red and white. All over the country streets are full of little stalls selling these Martenitsi and all day long you’ll witness people happily shouting ‘Chestita Baba Marta!’ and exchanging these charms– quite a fascinating and joyful experience really! It’s not uncommon to look like an over-decorated Christmas tree by the end of the day with all these charms pinned on you!
There are various theories and even several legends, some involving real historical figures, about the symbolism of these two particular colors – red & white, from which Martenitsa are made. The most popular belief is that “red” stands for “life/birth” and “white” denotes “anew/on clear grounds”. Combined together, they mean “a new beginning”; a celebration of Life and Survival. Another popular explanation is that white stands for wisdom and red for good health, which means that anyone giving you a Martenitsa is wishing you both throughout the new year.
In accordance with ancient tradition is personified by the mythical, rather grumpy and limping grandmotherly figure of Baba Marta (Grandma March) whose job it is to brush out winter and let in Spring. There are several different stories relating to Baba Marta, but all have one thing in common: she is a very irritable and unpredictable old lady, extremely moody, (hence the unpredictable weather in March.) She is known to cast bad spells on people who displease her and will only visit clean houses, which means that March is also the month for what is traditionally known as Spring cleaning! If she’s displeased with what she finds she’ll make it known by sending you bad wintery weather spells, but if she’s happy you’ll find her smile reflected in the warming sun!
The Martenitsi are worn until the first sighting of a stork (a harbinger of spring) or, more commonly nowadays, a budding fruit bearing tree. By the end of March and well into April you’ll find trees everywhere decorated with these red-and-white charms. Beware if you don’t wear your Martinitza until then, for Bulgarians believe that you will be visited by evil spirits and bad luck will befall you! You’ll even find pets and domestic animals such as young horses, lambs, kids and sheep wearing Martenitsi. Houses, too, are decorated with their own Martenitsa.
So, if you find yourself in Bulgaria in the beginning of March, don’t be shocked to see that everyone is wearing funny white and red tassels on their clothes. No, they don’t have bad taste in fashion, they just like their traditions!
Elder & Sister Segeberg