The Bulgarian tradition of the Martenitsa

A Martenitsa is a small ornament (usually a bracelet or a brooch), most often made of wool or cotton yarn in two basic colors – white and red, which Bulgarians tie around their wrists or clip on their clothes each year on March 1st for health and good luck. March 1st is also known as the celebration of Baba Marta (Grandmother Marta).

There is more than one legend associated with the origin of the Bulgarian martenitsa, but all of them are related to the Proto-Bulgarians and the founder of the Bulgarian country – Khan Asparuh (640-701).

One of the most widespread stories is about the five sons of Khan Kubrat and his only daughter, Hubba (Beauty – from bg. Хубав [hubav]). He bequeathed them the decree not to divide and protect Bulgaria. After the death of their father, the sons quickly forgot his wise counsel, and they were defeated by the Hunshire leader Han Ashina. He conquered their possessions and carried away Hubba in thrall. The brothers started looking for a new land, while their sister was waiting to hear from them. And the good news arrived with the coming of the spring, brought by a falcon. In the letter, Asparuh told her that he had found a piece of Heaven south of the Danube and would settle there. Hubba escaped, led by the falcon to whose leg was tied a white silk thread. The bird took her to the new land, but an enemy arrow hit the falcon and his blood stained the thread.

After receiving the message that his sister was coming, Asparuh began to tear pieces of the white-red thread, and tied them to the hands of his soldiers, telling them: “The thread that is connecting us should never be interrupted. Let us be healthy, cheerful, happy. Let us be BULGARIANS”. It was day one, March, summer of 681.

Since then, this white-red thread is a symbol of the strong connection between all Bulgarians around the world and has become a charm for strength, happiness and health. It reminds us of our roots wherever we are.

The white color of the martenitsa originally symbolized the male beginning – the power. But later under the influence of Christianity, the color’s meaning shifted to joy, beauty, purity and integrity, peace and love, health and abundance instead. The red color indicates the feminine beginning – health. It is a symbol of blood, conception, birth, warmth, friendship and mutual affection

The martenitsa is taken off when one sees a blooming tree, a stork or a swallow. The person makes a wish and ties his martenitsa to the tree or puts it under a stone.

There is also a folk legend related to the martenitsa – the legend of Pijo and Penda. Pijo was a handsome, humorous and humble young man, who was famous for his hard work and kindness. He never sat in one place, always pacing around the village and helping people. That’s why his cheeks were always red. Pijo fell in love with the pretty Penda since the first time he saw her.

Penda was the most beautiful girl in the whole area. She had a fair and modest soul, she was a good and very sincere girl. Her hair was black and her skin was the very palest that anyone had ever seen. Pijo was fascinated by her beauty and proposed her marriage. Penda had also chosen Pijo as a life companion. So the happy couple raised a big wedding, where they invited guests from several villages. The people, delighted by the nice couple, decided to immortalize them in two figures – a red boy and a white bride. To this day Pijo and Penda remind us that the power of love ennobles man and makes him immortal.

As we keep old traditions alive and remember the legacy of our ancestors, we try to treasure hard work, kindness and sincerity in our everyday life and work.

The Infoleven team