Different nations in Europe (mainly Balkan ones) observe the beginning of spring in various ways and that tradition traces back to Ancient Rome where New Year was commemorated on March 1 and all of the feasts were in honour of Mars (the God of war and cattle). Nowadays four almost neighbouring countries still keep spring rituals that unite the four nations and moreover, these states have “white-and-red cotton” traditions that take place on first day of March. Let’s start with Romania and Moldova and pass through the Hellenic Republic and Bulgaria.
The Romanians have a spring feast called Martishor. Romanian men bestow women with a small piece of jewelry (in the form of a flower, animal, heart, etc.) tied with white and red cottons. In turn, ladies wear this martishor for twelve days. The Moldovan tradition is almost similar to the Romanian one and the difference is that the pendant is from gold or silver, and again with the two-colour cottons. Wearing them on their clothes brings them happiness, luck and health. As to Hellas, parents tie white-and-red cotton bracelets called martis to their children’s hands and as per the Hellenic folklore, they are considered to protect kids from the strong Hellenic sun. The bracelet is worn till midnight on Easter and on that day people light an outdoors fire and throw it in the flames.
And finally Bulgaria … 🙂 Our celebration of Baba Marta (Grandmother Marta) is a unique, indeed. It is observed on March 1 like in the rest three countries. You might ask me who Baba Marta is. Well, she is an old lady married to a young lad named February. When he is happy, she is happy as well and the weather is warm and pleasant in March. But when he teases her, she gets furious and the weather is getting bloody cold. So, this is Bulgarian women’s explanation why the weather isn’t predictable and so changeable during the month of women (i.e. in March) – February is the reason, not women’s unpredictable mood. 😉
Apart from folklore, the Bulgarian white-and-red cotton tradition dates back to our early history and the establishment of the Bulgarian country by Khan Asparuh in 681. According to the legend, when the proto-Bulgarians (the Bulgars) crossed the Danube and reached the Danubian Plain, they were enchanted by the beauty of the place and decided to settle down here. After having established the new country, the khan wanted to worship God Tangra. As per an old tradition, the sacrificial pyre had to be lighted with dry dill sprigs but unfortunately, the Bulgarians couldn’t find any around. While the khan was wondering what to do, a falcon appeared from somewhere and perched on his shoulder. A dry dill sprig was hanging from its leg and it was tied with white cotton stained in red. Khan Asparuh got to know immediately it had been sent by his sister, Huba, who remained in Khan Kubrat’s (their father) palace. The young lady had a dream and thus she realized her brother had a predicament. That’s why she sent him a dry dill sprig fastened to the leg of the falcon. Unfortunately, the flight of the falcon was too long and its wing got rubbed and started to bleed and the white woolen cotton was coloured in red as well. Khan Asparuh got the so-desired sprig of dry dill for worshipping the God, lighted the sacrificial pyre with it and put the white-red cotton on his clothes. Since then the Bulgarians have decorated their clothes with such twisted white-and-red cottons on March 1 every year.
There are some other peculiarities related to the observation of our spring feast. Firstly, the ornaments we wear are called martenitsi and they are quite similar to the Romanian martishors. Principally, they should be hand-made of white and red woolen or silk cottons. A classical martenitsa has two figures – boy Pizho and girl Penda. Nowadays mass production is the reason why we have various “modern models” of martenitsa with pendants, figures, animals, hearts and so on and so forth. Sometimes producers of martenitsi even add some additional colours like blue, orange, green, etc. to make them more eye-catching but thus they ruin our tradition. Secondly, all of the Bulgarians bestow one another with these ornaments and wear them on clothes until we see a stork. Then we should take them off and put them under a stone. But those who live in Sofia would hardly see the first stork in March and that is why there is “another” belief. When we get martenitsi on March 1 we choose one day from the month of March. When that day comes we should take them off and hang them on a blossomed tree (to find such a tree is another hard task during the women’s month 😀 ). And… the weather on that day shows us what the year will be. And thirdly, we decorate one another martenitsi we always wish each other much health and happiness through the year and our greeting is ……
Chestita Baba Marta 🙂