Baba Marta's Moods: Here's Why Bulgarians Celebrate Grandma March

Martenitsa | Pixabay
Martenitsa | Pixabay
Photo of Maria Angelova
5 February 2017

March is one of the most spectacular months to live in Bulgaria. Spring is coming. Trees are in blossom. Everyone exchanges good wishes and red-and-white threads. But when a foreigner comes to Bulgaria in March, they might feel a bit overwhelmed by all the traditions around. So here is a short guide to making you feel more at ease when someone gives you the next martenitsa.

Who is Baba Marta (or Grandma March)?

In the Bulgarian collective memory, March is female, old, and it (or rather, she) brings small presents. She has a name, too – Baba Marta (Grandma March). Every toddler knows that Baba Marta is a charming old lady who chases away the cold and grumpy February. She invites the sun, the flowers, and the birds for a new season of bustling life. The colors of the month are red and white, symbolizing passion and purity. During the weeks preceding March 1st, the streets are packed with hundreds of stalls selling all kind of martenitsa.

Martenitsa | © Georgi Kirichkov/Flickr

Why do Bulgarians give martenitsa to each other?

Martenitsa is a yarn thread in white and red that Bulgarians give to their loved ones on March 1st.

A typical martenitsa consists of two woolen dolls tied up together – Pizho and Penda. Pizho is all made of white wool, while Penda is all in red. A martenitsa is usually tied around the wrist or pinned as a brooch on the jacket. The funniest martenitsas are for the children, of course. They may have tiny toys attached to the thread.

Martenitsa is always given as a gift. Don’t buy one for yourself – wait for someone to give it to you.

Bulgarians believe that the ritual will provide them a year full of happiness and good fortune. Sometimes they make a wish while the martenitsa is being tied around their hand.

According to the tradition, you cannot throw away your martenitsa until you see a stork or a sparrow. These two bird species spend the winter in Africa and fly back to Bulgaria in mid-March. Another option is to tie it up to a tree in blossom.

Martenitsas on a magnolia tree | © Danielgrad/Wikimedia

Why do they say that Baba Marta’s mood changes so much?

As kind as an old lady like Baba Marta can be, sometimes her mood changes in a second. And how do you know that? When the weather in March suddenly shifts from sunny to snowstorms, Bulgarians say that Baba Marta has gotten angry and has let the winter come back.

Baba Marta is not a tradition unique to Bulgaria. You can see the colorful threads in Macedonia, Greece, and Romania as well.

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