The legend behind the "Martenitsa" - a small piece of adornment, made of white and red yarn and usually in the form of two dolls, a male and a female.
If you are visiting Bulgaria at the beginning of March you are certain to notice almost every person decorated with small tokens made from red and white woollen threads.
Then from late March to mid-April, you will notice many fruit trees and shrubs decorated with these same tokens.
March 1 is the "Baba Marta" day in Bulgaria - on the first of March, and the days following, people give each other red-and-white strips or small woollen dolls called Pizho (the male character) and Penda (the female one), also known as Martenitzi. They are named so because they bring the name of March, or in Bulgarian - Mart.
According the tradition, Marta (the female variation of the word Mart) is an angry old lady who rapidly changes her mood from bad to good and back again. She is popular all around as Grandmother Marta (in Bulgarian Baba Marta).
There are many beliefs and stories regarding the meaning of the red-and-white symbols of the Martenitsas – the most popular being the following one:
More than a dozen centuries ago, the proto-Bulgarian ruler Khan Asparuh (also known as Isperih) left his home in the distant Tibet Mountains in search of fertile land for his people to live on. He passed through many rivers and mountains until he finally reached the lands of the Slavs, who greeted him and his people as dear guests. Slav women, wearing white outfits brought drinks, while the tables were full of foods – everything that grows on that blessed land.
But the Khan was sad and homesick and he missed his mother and his dear sister Kalina.
He sat by the huge river and tears ran down hid sunburnt face, while he prayed to gods and the sun for a miracle to happen.
And it did happen! A swallow landed on his shoulder and the Khan shared all his sorrow to her. Then the swallow flew away, back to the lands the Proto-Bulgarians came from, and with a human voice it told Kalina, the Khan’s sister, that her brother found a new land for his kingdom but he is misses her so much and sends his best feelings...
Kalina was so happy to hear that – and she decided to send her brother a token that she had got the news. She made a small bunch from some green bush, she bound it with a white woollen thread, and made knots at the end of the thread as a greeting sign – and she sent the swallow to take that bunch back to her brother.
The swallow flew fast as lightning and very soon it landed on the Khan’s shoulder again. But due to the long flight his wing was hurt and some blood drops dyed the white woollen thread. The Khan was so happy to see the green bunch, he got his sister’s greeting by the knots she had made, and so he pinned the bunch on his chest.
The Khan ordered his men each to put a small bunch of twisted red-and-white thread on that day each year – for health and heavenly blessing.
That happened on the first of March and remained as a tradition ever since.
As the Bulgarian tradition goes, each morning on the first of March, a fire has to be started in the yard, with plenty of smoke. Then everyone living in the house jumps over the fire three times, facing the rising sun, to clean off any evil spirits and keep away all illnesses.
Then the mistress of the house takes out some red clothes and fabrics and flings them on tree-branches and on the fence.
Then she decorates the young kids and the newborn animals with Martenitzas she prepared herself from woollen or cotton threads.