To mark the first day of March, Bulgarians exchange Martenitsi. These are the red and white ornaments, made from twisted threads and are often worn around the wrist or neck, pinned to clothing, or even decorating doors and vehicles, some people even buy them for their pets to wear. At this time of year there are many stalls selling these Martenitsi, but there are still those who prefer to hand make them for their friends and family. For many these Martenitsi will be worn until they see the first Stork or the first fruit tree in blossom,at which time they can be removed and hung from the closest fruit tree. The colours are quite significant, with white symbolising strength, purity and happiness, and the red with health, blood and fertility. Quite often you will find that a couple of figures are represented, and these are known as Pizho and Penda.
Pizho is the male figure, and can be identified by being mainly white. As you might expect the mainly red figure is the female of the two, and is called Penda. A Martenitsa can be thought of as an amulet and is used for protection against Baba Marta, whose mercurial temperament can cause unexpected misfortune. Baba Marta is gentler and more forgiving to the person who wears a Martenitsa. Some feel that a Martenitsa can also be used for fortune telling or to encourage the desirable outcome of a wish. Some also believe that wearing a Martenitsa will also hasten the coming of Spring. I have to admit that as soon as I see the Martenitsi stalls I psychologically feel that warmer weather is just around the corner. It is a tradition that has been upheld in Bulgaria for a long time, and you will often find trees that are adorned with martenitsi from not only the current year but also from years gone by. We do tend to go by the first Stork before we remove ours, and it has been known for us to drive around looking for the Storks.
The legends behind the Martenitsa are numerous, and many think that they date back to the founding of the first Bulgarian state in 681AD. Whatever the origins of this tradition it is one in which we happily partake. It is such a popular tradition amongst Bulgarians that even those in foreign countries still observe it, and as Bulgarians venture further and further afield, more people are coming into contact with this wonderful custom. As I have previously mentioned for me it helps to break through that psychological barrier between the two seasons. I know that we can still get snow, but the likelihood does tend to diminish as we progress further into the year, and this celebration for me is a good mile stone.
So on Friday please remember to hand out your Martenitsi to your family and friends. Also remember to wish them Честита Баба мартa (Chestita Baba Marta).
Totally unrelated I would like to take this opportunity to pass on my heartfelt thanks to all of you who took the time to read my previous blog. Thanks to you all reading and sharing it, the number of times that our blogs have been accessed is now over 7000 times. A particularly big thank you goes to all who provided such positive feedback, both Bulgarians and ExPats. It is nice knowing that so many people enjoy reading these blogs. In case you are wondering about the Martenitsa on the right, it is probably me on the left and Net on the right, even if the colours are the wrong way round.