The Martenitsa is a special talisman, worn in Bulgaria during March to celebrate the beginning of spring

Just the basics

  • A unique custom in Bulgaria, celebrated throughout March
  • In Bulgarian Folklore January, February and March were three siblings
  • January and February would often make Grandma March angry and her sour mood would bring bad weather
  • The Martenitsa is a special talisman, made of red and white pieces of yarn, meant to appease her
  • It is worn either on the left hand or pinned on the chest, next to the heart
  • It is supposed to bring health and long life
  • Whenever spring comes, herald either by the return of migrating birds, or by blossoming trees, the Martenitsa is taken off and tied to the nearest tree

Baba Marta

On the first of March a unique tradition takes place in Bulgaria. According to legend, the first three months of the year were actual mythical creatures, each with its own personality and character. January and February were two brothers and they lived high up in the mountains, together with their sister Marta, known throughout the land as Baba Marta, meaning Grandma March. As the two brothers would often misbehave, she often god really angry, explaining why the weather during her month would often change so rapidly. One particular story tells of the three siblings having a vineyard together and making three barrels of wine – one for each of them. However, during the winter the brothers drank theirs and unknown to each other, started stealing small portions from their sister. On the first of March Marta prepared a big feast, but when she went to the basement to fetch some wine, she discovered her barrel empty. Her anger was so great, that the whole land started to quake and thunder, but as quickly as it came, it was over, and everything returned to normal. 

Martenitsa

To appease her anger and bring forth the start of spring, Bulgarian folklore dictates that a special talisman, called a Martenitsa is worn, made of red and white yarn. As a rule, it is always given as a gift, never bought or made for oneself, but for loved ones and friends. Both colors have a special meaning. The deep red signifies a person’s blood and is supposed to bringing health, while the white means purity and brings the wearer a long life. There are many different versions of the Martenitsa, but the most popular are either as an armband, made out of intertwined red and white strings, or as two small wool puppets called Pizho and Penda, pinned on the wearer’s shirt, next to their heart. The Martenitsa is worn throughout the whole March, until a symbol of the coming spring is encountered. This can be the return of migrating birds, like a swallow or stork, or the blossoming of a tree. At this point the wearer takes it off and ties it to a branch of the nearest tree, signifying that winter has officially ended.

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