It is the second day of March when I am writing this and we are stuck at home because of the snow. For me, a girl from Bulgaria, the snow just means another day of winter. But for the UK it means the end of the world and the end of all life as we know it. All public transport is suspended, most shops are closed, all flights cancelled, all schools and my own university not open. To be fair even if it was open I wouldn’t have been able to go there since all trains are also cancelled.
There are different sides of the situation we are currently in. One is the shops. The most funny thing is going to a local shop and see half of its shelves empty and a lot of people going there for supplies. It looks a lot like a movie about the apocalypse. In contrast another side showcases how some people are just enjoying the snow with their families and kids by sliding on any slopes they can find. And me, I’m just enjoying the fresh air outside and the beauty the snow brings.
As I sit at home and watch TV I decided to write this blog not only to talk about the snow but also to tell you about one of the most famous traditions we have in Bulgaria. And that is “Baba Marta” or as it translates to english “Grandma March”. Baba Marta is celebrated on the 1st of March but also in the following weeks to come. The celebration starts with the exchange of these beautiful and different hand threads called “Martenitsa”.
Martenitsa has a long history and so the tradition has different origin stories. One of the legends of how it started goes like this:
The king of the the proto-bulgarians Khan Kubrat on his dying bed made his sons promise that they will never separate so they could be stronger in the face of enemies and be able to keep themselves from being enslaved. After the king died, the proto-bulgarians were attacked by an enemy who took over their land and so the brothers broke their promise to their father and went their separate ways. One of the brothers name Bayan was left behind. However, he made a deal with his brothers that when they find a new land to settle down he can come and join them.
Years after, the creator of Bulgaria Khan Asparuh found a new land for his people. And so he was ready to help his brother find his way back to his people. In order to help Bayan, Asparuh send a pigeon with a white thread around its leg to help his brother find the path to safety from one side of a river to the other. But once the pigeon reached Bayan and he took the white string from its leg, however at that moment an enemy arrow pierced Bayan and the blood coloured some of the white thread red. However the enemy got scared by the appearance of khan Asparuh from the other side of the river and fled the land. And so Bayan managed to get back to his brother. To celebrate his return khan Asparuh made other white and red threads, which he put on the wrists of all of his army. The message that he conveyed was that the threads symbolised the unity of the Bulgarian people and that they will bring health, happiness and luck to those who wear it. The day that happened was 1st of March 681. And so the tradition started. (story courtesy of my aunt who is ethnographer)
Nowadays there are many versions of the Martenitsa, not only as a hand thread. Martenitsa is also in the form of two human like dolls made of yarn called Pizhu (the male) who is predominantly white and Penda (the female) who is predominantly red.