MCR Member Magdalena Stanilova explains the origins of the traditional Bulgarian festival and shares how it was celebrated recently in St John’s.
The feast of the 1st of March is called Baba Marta (Баба Марта) which means ‘Grandmother March’. In Bulgarian folklore, March is allegorised as the sister of January and February, who always annoy her, which explains why the weather during March is unpredictable. Often in Bulgaria, the days can vary from warm and sunny, to rainy or even snowy. However, on the first day of the month people honour her with the martenitsi (мартеница) which is a decoration of twisted threads that is exchanged and tied on wrists. It is made of woolen yarn in two main colours, white and red. The red symbolises blood, while the white symbolises purity and happiness. This is also done in hope for a mild spring.
With the arrival of spring and the first storks, each person ties their martenitsa to a branch of a fully blossomed tree, which symbolizes fertility. Each year, the trees in Bulgaria are embraced by this beloved tradition and are covered with threads encompassing hopes and wishes for a healthy and prosperous future. Young and old alike participate and exchange the martenitsa wishing for good health, as the red and white threads are believed to have magical powers and protect from evils. This is because the wool material belongs to the Chthonic forces and, through this connection to the Earth, it provides fertility and health, while also protecting from wickedness.
The tradition itself is far more ancient than Christianity and as with many others, it is still evident and widely practiced in modern Bulgarian culture. Whether it has magical powers or not, the martenitsa is a well-loved tradition that unites people each year. It is easy to be made, and all that is required is a piece of red and white woolen thread and a simple tutorial on YouTube.
This year, the St John’s MCR also celebrated the first of March Bulgarian style, and joined in the exchange of martenitsa with a wish for a healthy year. The event included making our own martenitsi from wool and honouring Baba Marta with some red wine as the tradition dictates. It was a joyful and heart-warming experience to celebrate and share this Bulgarian feast at John’s. The purity of this tradition is the inclusion of all people and beliefs and reminds us to remember our roots and be kind to others.
Честита Баба Марта! Happy Baba Marta!