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Martenitsa the Bulgarian Pagan Tradition

Every year on 1st March the Bulgarian people have their traditional celebration of holiday named Baba Marta and is connected to the approaching spring. All over the world people celebrate spring with joy however among Bulgarians it was preserved in a tradition dating from ancient times.

On Martenista Bulgarians exchange Martenitsi and wish themselves “Happy grandma Marta”. This is a uniqe way to wish someone good luck, health and a lot of other positive things. Martenitsa is derived from Bulgarian word for month March or as the folk legends say from an angry old lady called Grandma Marta or Baba Marta in Bulgarian (and among Slavs in general Baba means grandma). In Slavic Bulgarian folklore Baba Marta is a harsh old woman who changes her mood very rapidly and it reflects in the changeable March weather that we all know as one day it’s sunny the other day it’s cold and cloudy. When Baba Marta is smiling the weather is sunny and warm, but when Baba gets angry the cold will stay for longer and it may even snow. By wearing the red and white colors of the Martenitsa our predecessors asked Baba Marta for mercy. They hoped that it will make winter pass faster and bring spring.

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The little dolls called Martenitsa are made of inter-twined red and white threads – woollen, silk, or cotton. The white is a symbol of strength, purity and happiness while the red color is associated with health, blood, conception, and fertility. The most common Martenitsa represents two small wool dolls – Pizho and Penda. Pizho is the male doll, usually dominating in white color. Penda is the female doll, usually dominating in red color and distinguished by her skirt. There are many other variations and forms. Out of twined red and white threads are also made bracelets, necklaces, tassels, pompons, balls, squares, human or animal figures. Over the past several decades the tradition has been innovated by attaching all kinds of representations and symbols made of wood, leather, ceramics, metal foil to the thread-made martenitsas.

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When someone gives you a Martenitsa you should wear it either pinned on your clothes, on the hand tied around the wrist, or around your neck until you see a stork, or a fruit tree in blossom for the first time in the season. After that you can tie it on a blossoming tree for fertility. It is believed that the Martenitsa bring health, happiness and longevity. Like kind of amulet, Martenitsa was attributed a magic power believed to protect folks from “ill fortune”, diseases and an evil eye.

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The custom of wearing Martenitsa is probably one of the most interesting Bulgarian (pagan) tradition and it is considered to be unique to Bulgaria. According to one of the many legends, this tradition is also related to the founding of the Bulgarian state in 681 AD.

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