For more than 1,000 years, we The Bulgarians have celebrated our national holiday on March 1st called “Baba Marta,” (Grandma March). In Bulgarian, “Mart” is the name for the month of March. During March, Bulgarians wear a small special ornament made of red and white yarn called “Martenitsa,” (for Mart/March). The martenitsa is one of the most recognizable and unique Bulgarian symbols. It is a symbol of peace, love, health and happiness. The white color symbolizes purity and honesty in relationships, and peace. The red color coming from the blood symbolizes the life force, passion, affection, and mutual love.
March 1 is the day on which Bulgarians exchange martenitsas. These are worn until we see a stork or the first buds of a tree (and storks are numerous in Bulgaria). Once people see these spring symbols, they tie their martenitsa on a tree or let it flow in a river. In some regions, people leave their martenitsas under a rock. Then they come back in a month to see if there are any ants under that same rock. If there are many, the year is to be prosperous and abundant.
The legend goes over a thousand years back (Bulgaria was found in 681). A legend about the origin of the tradition tells that khan Asparouh, the founder of present-day Bulgaria, had a sister named Houba. She was captured by the enemies. To free his sister, Asparouh had to find free land and take his people there. He promised to inform his sister once the land was discovered. He was to send her a dove that had a thread tied to its leg. While flying, the dove was wounded and its blood colored the thread. Yet Houba got the good news and managed to escape.
The legend I was told as a child was about one of our kings and his queen. The king had to go to war to defend our land leaving his queen. He told her that he will send her a sign of his success. The king succeeded but he lost his life for his people. Nevertheless, he managed to send a sign to his queen by one of his people – a white piece of his clothing colored red by the blood he shed for his people. Even though both legends differ, the foundation is the same. It involves our king and kingdom, and the delivery of the good news of freedom by a sign, a white tread or piece of cloth that gets stained with the life blood of the one who delivered us to freedom.
Nowdays, with having a big chunk of the Bulgarian population spread around the globe with remaining Bulgarian population in Bulgaria of about 8 million, these red and white threads have come to symbolize the strong bond among Bulgarians around the world.
Mart reminds us of the values which the Martenitsa has carried through the centuries. And all Bulgarians wear it, no matter where they are.
People in neighboring countries like Romania, Macedonia and Serbia have similar holidays.