March 1st is probably our most intrinsic holiday because it is unique to Bulgaria. The custom of wearing martenitsas (red-and-white threads worn as a decoration) is only popular in Bulgaria and it is perhaps the most positive one in all our folklore. The traditions related to March 1st as well as the martenitsas themselves are associated with optimism and anticipation of warmer weather, fertility and well-being. This tradition is based upon the founding of Bulgaria in 681 AD and there are many more than one folk-legend about the origin of this celebrated day. The name March comes from the Latin Martius, i.e. ‘of Mars’, the god of war, son of Jupiter and Junona. Old Bulgarians called it “birch month” – because the birch trees begin to grow leaves and give sap. Other traditions connected with March include that very early in the morning, even before the month begins, the young ones must be the first to meet the willful old woman. Thus she will be smiling and merry, the weather will be good and sunny. Also, in March people may be reluctant to have their hair cut so that she does not "cut" their brains and they become stupid.
Below, we have entered collected folklore tales about Bulgaria's Baba Marta and hope you enjoy them.
Many, many years ago, Khan Isperih left his home in the far away Tibetan mountains and went in search of fertile land for his people, the proto-Bulgarians. He crossed many mountains and rivers until finally he stopped in the land of the Slavs who met him cordially. Slav women, dressed in white, brought him cups of wine and the tables were piled with food, the fruits of this blessed land.
But the khan was not happy for he was sick for his family – his mother and his sister Kalina. He sat on the bank of the big river and tears like pearls dropped down his masculine cheeks. His eyes looked in prayer towards the sun and the gods. And then the miracle happened.
A swift swallow alighted on his shoulder, and Isperih told her of his grief. The swallow flew away to the lands from which the Bulgarians came and told Kalina in a human voice that her brother has a new kingdom, that he grieves about her and sends her greetings. Kalina was very happy to hear that and decided to send a message to her brother. She made a nosegay of green plants, tied it with white woolen thread, made some knots on it meaning best regards and sent it back with the swallow. The bird flew like thunder and landed on Isperih’s shoulder again. But after the long journey, its wing was wounded and its bright red blood had tinted the thread. The khan took the nosegay with joy, read in the knots his sister’s greetings, put the nosegay on his breast and the martenitsa shone bright.
Since that moment, Isperih ordered his people to make a bunch of twisted white and red thread and wear it on their breasts on this day – for health and blessing from heaven.
This happened on 1st of March and the tradition has remained until this day.
On the morning of 1st of March, people set fire in the yards of their houses, with lots of smoke. Then everybody jumps over the fire three times, facing the rising sun, in order to be purified from evil forces and guarded against diseases. The lady of the house takes out red clothes and fabrics and puts them on the branches of the trees in front of the house and on the fence. Only then does she decorate the children and the animals with the martenitsas made from woolen or cotton thread.
On the first of March and the following days, all Bulgarians give to each other strips or small woolen dolls called Pijo and Penda, decorations also known as Martenitsi. They are so named because they carry the name of March, or in Bulgarian, Mart.
According to tradition, Mart is an angry old lady who rapidly changes her mood from bad to good and back again. She is Grandmother March, in Bulgarian "Baba Marta."
In the traditional Bulgarian martenitsa, womenfolk might entwine coins, cloves of dry garlic, beads, iron rings, hairs of horsetail, snail shells, etc. That is why the martenitsa is considered to be a charm against evil forces.
Children wear their martenitsas on the right wrist, around the neck or on the breast, while young girls and brides wear it around the neck or woven into their hair. Men, however, tie the martenitsa above their left elbow or left ankle. In some regions they put it in the shoe under the left heel for if someone sees them with a martenitsa their masculinity may be "tied". Martenitsas are tied on young animals and the fruit trees.
People wear the martenitsa until they see a stork. Then they tie it on a fruit-tree branch, make a wish and are sure that it will come true.
On the first of March everybody should wear a martenitsa, especially young children, just married couples or newly-born domestic animals. Sometimes even the fruit trees, the handles of the door, or the vines in the vineyard also have their own martenitsa.
Today's martenitsa is found in many styles and sizes - from Guinness-worthy giant packages to two simple tiny strings, placed gently on a newborn's arm. Children now compete to see who will get the most and are often seen walking around more ornate than a Christmas tree. However the martenitsa always bears the same meaning - a lucky charm against the evil spirits of the world, a token for health and a sign of appreciation.
Special Thanks to www.abvg.net