If your next stop these days is Bulgaria it’s great because you’ll witness something very interesting. It’s about the celebration of forthcoming spring which name is “Baba Marta” (Granny Marta where Marta comes from March). The beginning is on 1 March when nowadays people just buy small red and white figures or bracelets made of threads called Martenitsa and give them to their relatives, wishing them health.
But in old times things were a bit different and this tradition was not that simple. It was a complex of rituals that every family should follow for the healthy being of himself, his family, livestock etc. By that time rituals started from the previous day (the last day of February), when the house and yard should be perfectly cleaned and the rubbish was burnt in the evening. The funniest part is that according to a book about these rituals, the person who lights the fire should be a child or old woman who hadn’t recently been to a toilet! Also in the evening before 1 March people put a red piece of red cloth on the fence of their house or on a fruit tree somewhere in their yard. They did this to propitiate Granny Marta because according to Bulgarian beliefs this mythological entity could be good or bad, depending to people’s actions. For people in the past this moody behavior explained weather changes in March here.
Scientists believe that these rituals are legacy from ancient times – from the pagan rituals of Thracians. They compare Granny Marta with the ancient Great Mother Goddess and say that there are a lot of similar things between them. For example even the red figure from the present Martenitsa is called Penda which is so close to the name of Thracian Mother Goddess – Bendida. So at all Martenitsa is pagan symbol but through the years Christian church has resigned with this fact that it won’t be strange if you see here a priest who wears it!
Just until the first half of 20 century Martenitsa was made by almost every Bulgarian family. In small towns the oldest woman in the family made by wool threats these accessories for every member of their family. It’s her job because she already gave birth to few lives and has needed experience. People believed that creating of Martenitsa is almost equal as importance with giving a birth! The main part of the process is twisting of two wool threads – one naturally white and one red-colored. While she is twisting she said loudly her best wishes for the person that Martenitsa is for. This is cause she believed that she’ll lock down these wishes between the threads by twisting. The wool itself shouldn’t be cut from the sheep, but should be picked from the thorns and bushes of some field.
Nowadays industry, free market and present lifestyle changed dramatically this tradition. Most of today’s Bulgarians buy the Martenitsas for their relatives from sellers most of whom orders them in China where they are made of all kinds of materials but not a wool. Of course there are sellers who produce the things they sell but again a lot of them don’t use wool. Most popular types of Martenitsa are white and red human-shaped figures connected by a twisted red and white thread. Other popular type (that youngsters prefer) are bracelets made again by twisted red and white threads. Of course the market here is full of all types of Martenitsa and everybody can choose between thousands of different varieties.
So if you come here these days and want to know more about that tradition or how to make your own wool Martenitsa, contact me and I’lll tell and show you (last few years I produce my own homemade Martenitsas for my relatives) what you want. We can also arrange a sightseeing tour in Sofia combined with shopping for Martenitsa all around here. For more info about my trips look other pages of my website. http://cyclingguidebulgaria.com/bulgaria/