Martenitsa

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Typical martenitsa

Martenitsa (Bulgarian: мартеница, pronounced [ˈmartɛnit͡sa], Macedonian: мартинка, Greek: μάρτης, Romanian: mărțișor) is a small piece of adornment, made of white and red yarn and worn from March 1 until around the end of March (or the first time an individual sees a stork, swallow, or budding tree). The name of the holiday is Baba Marta. "Baba" (баба) is the Bulgarian word for "grandmother" and Mart (март) is the Bulgarian word for the month of March. Baba Marta[1] is a Bulgarian tradition related to welcoming the upcoming spring. The month of March, according to Bulgarian folklore, marks the beginning of springtime. Therefore, the first day of March is a traditional holiday associated with sending off winter and welcoming spring.

Symbolism[edit]

Pizho and Penda (Bulgarian: Пижо и Пенда) are the names of the two small wool dolls of a typical Martenitsa. Pizho is the male doll, usually with white as its predominant color. Penda is the female doll, usually predominantly red, and is distinguished by her skirt.

The red and white woven threads symbolize the wish for good health. They are the heralds of the coming of spring in Bulgaria and life in general. While white as a color symbolizes purity, red is a symbol of life and passion, and so some ethnologists have proposed that, in its very origins, the custom might have reminded people of the constant cycle of life and death, the balance of good and evil, and of the sorrow and happiness in human life.

Tradition[edit]

On the first day of March and for a few days afterwards, Bulgarians exchange and wear white and red tassels or the Pizho and Penda dolls. In Bulgarian folklore the name Baba Marta (in Bulgarian баба Марта meaning Grandma March) is related to a grumpy old lady whose mood swings very rapidly.

This is an old pagan tradition that remains almost unchanged today. The common belief is that by wearing the red and white colours of the martenitsa people ask Baba Marta for mercy. They hope that it will make winter pass faster and bring spring. Many people wear more than one martenitsa. They receive them as presents from relatives, close friends and colleagues. Martenitsa is usually worn pinned on the clothes, near the collar, or tied around the wrist. The tradition calls for wearing the martenitsa until the person sees a stork or a blooming tree. The stork is considered a harbinger of spring and as evidence that Baba Marta is in a good mood and is about to retire.

A martenitsa tied to a blossoming tree, a symbol of approaching spring
Another tied martenitsa

The ritual of finally taking off the martenitsa may be different in different parts of Bulgaria. Some people would tie their martenitsa on a branch of a fruit tree, thus giving the tree health and luck, which the person wearing the martenitsa has enjoyed himself while wearing it. Others would put the martenitsa under a stone with the idea that the kind of creature (usually an insect) closest to the token the next day will determine the person's health for the rest of the year. If the creature is a larva or a worm, the coming year will be healthy, and full of success. The same luck is associated with an ant, the difference being that the person will have to work hard to reach success. If the creature near the token is a spider, then the person is in trouble and may not enjoy luck, health, or personal success.

The martenitsa is also a stylized symbol of Mother Nature. During early-spring/late-winter, nature seems full of hopes and expectations. The white symbolizes the purity of the melting white snow and the red symbolizes the setting of the sun which becomes more and more intense as spring progresses. These two natural resources are the source of life. They are also associated with the male and female beginnings.

Wearing one or more martenitsi is a very popular Bulgarian tradition. The martenitsa symbolises new life, conception, fertility, and spring. The time during which it is worn is meant to be a joyful holiday commemorating health and long life. The colours of the martenitsa are interpreted as symbols of purity and life, as well as the need for harmony in Nature and in people's lives.

Origin[edit]

A similar tradition is held in the Republic of Macedonia, as well as in Northern Greece, Albania, Romania and Moldova. The tradition is related to the ancient pagan history of the Balkan Peninsula and to all agricultural cults of nature. Some specific features of the ritual, especially tying the twisted white and red woolen threads, are a result of centuries-old tradition and suggest Thracian (paleo-Balkan) Hellenic or even Roman origins.[2]

A 20th century Bulgarian story relates the first martenizi to the 7th century Battle of Ongal between the Bulgar Khan Asparuh and the Byzantines, which resulted in a decisive Bulgars victory. After the victory, the Bulgar Khan sent eagles with white threads to announce the victory to his main camp. The threads turned bloody during the flight, thus creating the first martenitza.[3]

Use[edit]

Blossoming Magnolia full of tied martenitsi

Martenitsi are always given as gifts. Tradition dictates that people never buy martenitsi for themselves. They are given to loved ones, friends, and those people to whom one feels close. They are worn on clothing, or around the wrist or neck, until the wearer sees a stork or swallow returning from migration, or a blossoming tree, and then removes the Martenitsa and hangs it on a blossoming tree.

See also[edit]

References[edit]