Thursday, 6 March 2014

Baba Marta and Martenitsi

One of the most interesting celebrations in Bulgaria is Baba Marta, or Grandma March, a pagan tradition for welcoming the spring which lives to this day. On March 1st, Bulgarians gift one another red and white interwoven strings (martenitsi), which they are then supposed to wear or adorn themselves with until they see a stork or a budding tree. That's why you can often see red and white strings hung on trees everywhere around Sofia: people wish to share with the tree the health and luck they have enjoyed by wearing the martinitsi. Isn't that sweet?

The tradition of Baba Marta has mysterious origins; we have already heard three stories on how the Martenitsi first came to be, but the common thread running through all of them has been that the red colour is supposed to come from the blood of an innocent, be it of a young girl or a wounded bird. According to Wikipedia: "While white as a color symbolizes purity, red is a symbol of life and passion, thus some ethnologists have proposed that, in its very origins, the custom might have reminded people of the constant cycle of life and death, the balance of good and evil, and of the sorrow and happiness in human life." Notice the sacrifice (red) of the innocent and pure (white).

Does it remind you of anything? Yes, paganism! In fact, just like pagans used to personify the elements, Baba Marta has been imagined as a grumpy old woman who goes through sudden and violent mood swings. This is to symbolise the sudden changes in weather the month of March is known for in many different cultures. We got a taste of Baba's bipolarity ourselves: following a streak of very -unnaturally- warm days, in the morning of March 1st the sun had been shining and the weather in general had been perfect, but later that day it started raining, it got colder, and since then things still haven't got better. Baba, have mercy, look at our Martinitsi (but also take climate change into account)!

Anyway, to celebrate the day, we made some Martinitsi of our own! There was a relevant workshop in the Children's Department of the Sofia City Library, where we learned how to make them and had plenty of materials to let our imaginations run wild. Who said you can't mix tradition with innovation?

The girls hard at work... This is Daphne on the left, my girlfriend,
who was visiting during those days.

The twist in the technique!
Martenitsi come in various shapes and sizes!
Enjoying them before giving them away...

Different styles of martenitsi

Zanda's hair (picture by Daphne)

Ben Ten and Angry Birds martenitsas...

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