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!