THE STORY OF BABA MARTA: An ancient Bulgarian tradition for health and luck
When I was little I couldn`t wait for February to be over (no St. Valentine celebrations for me back then :) and “martenitsa” day to arrive. Because on that day the world around me become so much more colorful and bright. Instead of with predominantly black and grey – this is what they wear here in the winter – the streets were full of people decorated with red and white. My mum used to dress me up with white leggings and a red tunic. God, it was sooo long ago! But even now I remember it vividly, the first “martenitsa” of the year, she always put one on my coat, one on my dress and one on my wrist. Made me feel truly special. And loved.
So as this beautiful holiday is getting closer, let me tell you a bit more what is it all about, so you can share the joy with your loved ones. On the 1st of March Bulgarian people celebrate the end of winter and the beginning of a new life cycle, the long awaited spring. Pretty much everyone exchanges “martenitsa” with the words “Chestita Baba Marta”. “Chestita” means “Happy”, and Baba Marta comes from grandmother (“baba”), “Marta” is rooted in March. In folklore Baba Marta is presented as the wife or sister of Big Sechko (January) and Little Sechko (February). She is constantly unhappy with them; in different tales they drink her wine or do different mischiefs. She gets really angry and as a result the weather breaks. One of the most popular tales tells us about an old lady, who took her goats out in the mountain. It was the end of March, the very last days of the month. The old lady was counting on Baba Marta for blessing her with good weather – she is as ancient as I am, the old lady thought to herself, she will have mercy. Baba Marta did anything but. She got so mad, asked her brother April to land her a few days and got them. These days are what we call “borrowed days”. Baba Marta set free all the blizzards and snowstorms and the old lady and her goats were frozen. They then became a pile of stones, from which healing water started running. Yet, the 1st of March, the Baba Marta holiday, symbolizes the spring and brings us wishes for health and abundance in the beginning of the new cycle of life in nature. The tradition is linked with ancient pagan history of the Balkan Peninsula, committed to agricultural cults.
The ritual of purification from the winter and celebrating the spring includes fastеning of martinitsi on the tree when one sees a stork. Many people put their “martenitsi” on the tree they first see in leaf. The symbolism of red and white, the colours “martenitsa” is made of, is explained by many different theories. The common belief is that red stands for life and white for new, clear. Together, their meaning is rebirth. This is what spring is, life manifests itself again after the death-like winter. Here is a video on how to make a classic “martenitsa” :) Be red and white, colorful and bright!