Sunday, March 13, 2011

Briana in Bulgaria

My daughter-in-law's sister, Briana, is serving a church mission in Bulgaria and Hillary is keeping us all up to date on Briana's experiences by transcribing her letters to a blog. In the most recent entry Briana talked about the tradition of certain bracelets given out in March, worn and then hung on trees. I had to search out the story and find the correct spelling. But it is called a Martenitsa. From a Google search I found the following:

Visiting Bulgaria in March you will quickly notice everyone wearing a curious red and white tassel around their wrist called a Martenitsa. Don’t worry; it’s not another fashion craze that somehow passed you by. According to Bulgarian legend, the tassels are needed to pacify Baba Marta, an angry grandmother that determines how long we have to endure the winter cold. The red on the tassel symbolizes the spring sun and its ability to melt the winter snow represented by the white part of the tassel. Bulgarians pass out the Martenitsa bracelets to friends and strangers alike so don’t be surprised if you are asked to join in the winter expulsion by wearing a Martenitsa bracelet. You are obliged to wear the bracelet until you spot the first budding leaf on a tree signaling the arrival of spring. You can then remove the Martenitsa and tie it to the tree branch responsible for the good news. Mission accomplished.
Baba Marta...an ugly grandmother determining how long to stave off spring. I wonder if she's any sort like BabaYaga?

From another site:

In Bulgarian folklore Baba Marta is a grumpy old woman who changes her mood very rapidly and it reflects in the changeable March weather. When she is smiling the weather is sunny and warm, but if she 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.

The Martenitsa is made of twined red and white threads - woollen, silk, or cotton. The white is a symbol of strength, purity and happiness. The red is associated with health, blood, conception, and fertility.

The most typical 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.

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.

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.
I also wonder why we in America can't have a fun tradition like this. I try to think of some. I know in Cbus, in the fall, there are buckeye necklaces, homemade, passed out to be worn in support of the footballers but after the past sins of the coach have been revealed, I wonder how many of these will be seen in the fall. Do you, my faithful readers, know of any? Do you have any traditions to honor the end of winter and the start of spring? Maybe planting your vegetable gardens.

But last week, I realized that once again, the snowdrop flowers my mom planted years ago are up and blooming. As Robert walked around the yard one day, he said...It's Lily's (our granddaughter) season for sure...all the lilies are starting to emerge from their winter sleep. I went out and looked..and he was correct. Soon we will have all sorts of lilies to enjoy.

But how fun would it be to hang a martenitsa from a tree that has just started to show it's buds. I am not Bulgarian or I just might have to start that tradition here. But I will enjoy the thought of Briana hanging at least one of these bracelets that she's hoarding, on a tree....and rejoicing in the spring. I know I will be. Maybe I'll make one of these just because of Briana, and for Briana...as she serves in this very foreign country.

So even tho it's beyond March 1: "Chestita Baba Marta!" (Happy Grandma Marta!)

PS you can find these on eBay...why not? Look for "martenica". I opted to buy one (naturally) to support the Bulgarians in Sophia and to have an authentic one to pattern future ones from.

4 comments:

Dawn Mercedes said...

Fun post!

Jocelyn Christensen said...

that's so cool!

Lin Floyd said...

interesting traditions...I wonder what the background is for april fools' day?

Robin said...

Susan, will you make me one? Please. I know you are dying to make some. I LOVE them.

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