3rd of March is the National Day of Bulgaria!

The 3rd of March is Liberation day – the National Day of Bulgaria. It marks the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of San Stefano. This document ended the war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire in 1878 and put Bulgaria once again on the map, out of the five century rule of the Turks.

The Treaty of San Stefano allows Bulgaria to have its own government and army although it still has to pay tax to the Empire. Five centuries earlier the Ottoman invasion in Europe swept the fragmented Bulgarian kingdoms and subdued the whole of the Balkans. In 1393 the capital Veliko Tarnovo is conquered by the Turks. Although the invasion on the peninsula started more than fifty years before taking one after another the divided Bulgarian territories, the fall of Tarnovo marks officially the end of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. And for the next five hundred years the history of the Balkans is the history of the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire.

The war of 1877 – 1878 allows Russia, in search of dominance over the Balkans, to push the Turks almost completely out of the peninsula and to end their five centuries of dominance over southeastern Europe.  This war is regarded as the Liberation War in Bulgaria and many memorials all over the country mark the spots of the biggest battles and sieges, and the bravery of the soldiers. The Russian emperor Alexander II is called the Liberator by the Bulgarians and his monument is still one of the landmarks of the capital Sofia, situated opposite the National Assembly in the heart of the city.

The Treaty of San Stefano stretches the borders of Bulgaria to all the territories populated by ethnical Bulgarians. These include parts of today’s Macedonia, Serbia, Romania and Greece to a total of one and half times bigger territory than the one of nowadays Republic of Bulgaria. Only few months after the Treaty during the Berlin Conference of 1878 the Great Powers of Europe, fearing the Russian domination over the region fragment Bulgaria once again, redrawing its borders and shrinking its lands. That is one of the reasons for the short lived and fragile Treaty of San Stefano to be seen as a nationalistic ideal and the anniversary of its signing as a National Liberation Day.

Baba Marta brings “Martenitsa” to everyone!

In the first days of March Bulgarians can be seen exchanging numerous amounts of twisted white and red yarn in various shapes and sizes. Always given and accepted as a gift, this small piece of adornment is called “Martenitsa”. And it means that spring is round the corner!

Although the exact origins are unknown, this tradition is related to the early pagan agricultural societies on the Balkans. It is strongly related to the awakening of the Nature in the spring and the hope that the long winter is finally coming to an end. The ritual of giving Martenitsa as a token of health and good luck has not lost any of its significance during the ages and is an integral part of Bulgarian folklore.

“Baba Marta” or Grandmother Marta is named after the month March. She is often seen as the bringer of the ever-changing weather in the early spring. One moment she is smiling and it’s sunny, the next heavy clouds roll on the sky and it starts to rain – all due to the Baba Marta’s ever changing moods. And in the folklore she is the one that “hurries up and ties Martenitsa on everyone”. One must wear the Martenitsa – usually far more than one – until he or she sees a stork or a swallow. Both migrating birds fly away in the winter and come back in the spring. Seeing one is a sure sign that the spring is officially here. If no migrating birds are present, a blooming tree will also do the trick. Then the person takes the Martenitsa off and ties it on a fruit tree – passing on the token of heath and good luck to the fruit tree as a wish for a fertile year. That’s why everywhere around Bulgaria you can see trees with strange fruits – white and red yarn called Martenitsa!