On this day, according to a popular Bulgarian tradition, women and children wear Martenitsi on their clothing. In the past, they were also attached to farm animals like lambs, as well as young fruit trees. It is a symbol promoting good health, fertility, as well as protection against evil eyes.
Bulgarians commonly wear martenitsa either on the left hand or on the left side of the jacket. They can be removed at the appearance of the first storks, the first swallows, or until the first sound of the cuckoo bird, which heralds the beginning of spring.
The most basic form of Martenitsa is a twisted red and white woolen thread, which is considered to be an amulet against evil forces. Another popular Bulgarian martenitsa resembles a newlywed couple. Known by the name of its characters, husband and wife, Pijo and Penda. This particular model is also inspired by old Bulgarian wedding rituals.
In some areas in Bulgaria, the introduction of the newlyweds to their new home is done via a red thread or martenitsa laid on the pavement on their way into the house. The intertwining of white and red is also visible in the clothing of the newlyweds. The bride wears a white apron and is veiled with a red belt, while the groom is stocked with a red belt and wears white cloth.
The white and red colors of martenitsa are usually seen as symbols of the female and male beginning, of purity and life. The white color originally symbolizes masculine features such as strength and light. Later, under the influence of religion, it denotes virginity. Last but not least the color white is the color of Christ. On the other hand, the color red (originally female wedding costumes were red) is typical for the feminine side.
Baba Marta (or Granny March) is the only female personification of a calendar month. Most often she is considered an elderly woman with fluctuating emotions. Some days she is cheerful while other days she gets angry and irritable, similar to the typical weather forecast for March.
A Unesco heritage
This Bulgarian tradition is part of the UNESCO intangible heritage since 2017. Cultural practices associated to the 1st of March – intangible heritage – Culture Sector – UNESCO