Baba Marta: Traditions without borders

Words and images by Melisa Numan

Djoana Kancheva (BA Film) and Simona Angelova (Theatre and Drama graduate) show their martenitsas in the Atrium

Grandma Marta Day is a holiday celebrated in Bulgaria, on March 1. It is beloved by people living in the country, and those who carry the tradition abroad. Martenitsas, usually in the form of a wrist band, small yarn dolls, or tassels, are created combining red and white coloured threads and are worn on that day and throughout March. Or until a stork is seen, symbolising the coming of spring, warmer weather and well-being. Once the stork appears, the Martenitsa is taken off and hung on a blooming tree.

In recent times, a dispute has arisen over the origin of martenitsas. According to one theory this amulet dates back to the time when the Thracians lived on our lands and attached red threads to their cattle to protect them from diseases. The other theory takes us to the period when Khan Asparukh began to form the Bulgarian state.

Three of the legends about the martenitsa are also associated with this version. Although different in themselves, the legends converge around the fact that Khan Asparukh received a message from his beautiful sister Huba in the form of a white thread tied to the leg of a bird – a falcon, a pigeon or a swallow, depending on the story.

During the journey, the bird got injured and so the thread turned red. Delighted by the news from his sister, Khan Asparukh adorned all his people with such threads, from where the modern tradition is believed to have originated. Regardless of its origin, the martenitsa remains one of the most emblematic and beloved symbols of Bulgaria. The white-red thread is what connects all Bulgarians on one day, regardless of where they are.

”The first of March is a really exciting day for me. I’m always anticipating for the day to come because it’s a symbol of the coming of spring – one of the most beautiful and colourful seasons in the year. Also it’s a perfect opportunity to give a little martenitska to our loved ones and wish them health, happiness and blessings. Through all my life, including since I moved to Cardiff 5 years ago, I’ve never missed celebrating Baba Marta and spreading the love with my friends. It’s a nice reminder of home and our traditions and it’s really important to me I honour it like a true Bulgarian girl. I’d say baba Marta hasn’t only brought happiness to the Bulgarians around me but also to a few of my British friends who love receiving martenitsi and hearing about our tradition. They understand it and it brings them joy. My partner loves it so much he didn’t follow the rules and kept it on his hand for a whole year!”- Simona Angelova

Leave a Reply