Happy 1 of March everyone!
Or as Bulgarians say Chestita Baba Marta! Wishing you to be red and white like a Martenitsa!
The Crossroads point:
Today Bulgarians celebrate the end of winter and the arrival of spring. Unlike Western cultures where Spring is a young and beautiful woman, our Spring is the so called Baba Marta - an old and fiery-tempered granny. She is best-known for her ill temper. When March starts, all want to keep to Baba Marta's good side :)
According to folklore, Baba Marta is the only sister of the 11 month gods and is particularly angry with her two brothers - January and February - because during the winter they drank all her wine :-D
So, even though March is technically a spring month, the weather is heavily dependent on Baba Marta's mood swings. One day she's happy and the sun shines, the next day she's furious and blizzard comes around.
On this day, Bulgarians greet each other with the wish: Happy Baba Marta! Let you be red and white like a Martenitsa!.
Another legend ties Martenitsa to the dawn of Bulgarian history. Back in 680 AD, when Khan Asparuh (the first Bulgarian ruler and founder of the Bulgarian state in traditional historiography) was fighting Byzantium, his sister was taken captive by the Byzantine emperor. She sent a pigeon with a message to her brother about the Byzantine army coming to the Bulgarian stronghold on the bank of the Danube river and tied the slip of paper to the animal's leg with a white thread. The pigeon flew but was shot crossing the Byzantine lines. Still, it made it to Asparuh's camp. He read the message and saw that the thread had turned half white and half red. He took that as a good omen, tied the thread around his wrist and rode into battle... To win and to establish the Bulgarian state - 1300 years later, the country has not yet changed name (not even once) and still stands in its original place on the map.
What is a Martenitsa?
The symbol of the holiday is called a Martenitsa (from the name for the month March in Bulgarian). It is either a bracelet made of white and red thread or two anthropomorphic figurines - called Pizho (the male one) and Penda (the female one) . You can see them below. Usually Pizho is a red figurine and Penda - a white one. The Martenitsa is worn as an amulet all March and is taken off only after one sees a stork (the messenger of spring in Bulgarian folklore) or till the month is over. Usually, the martenitsa is then tied to a fruit-bearing tree, so that it would bear more fruit the upcoming year.
Fun fact is that Martenitsa is worn all over the Balkan peninusula - in Romania, Greece, Macedonia, parts of Serbia. Bulgarian nationalists explain that with the territory occupied by the First Bulgarian kingdom (which covered the territories of the present-day countries above). Truth is that it's a wonderful tradition to keep.
Fun fact 2 - a joint application of Bulgaria and Romania put Martenitsa on the UNESCO World Heritage list (of intangible heritage) in 2017 :)
So, happy spring and be healthy!