It is Baba Marta! Or literally translated - Grandma March! On 1st of March everyone in Bulgaria (and throughout various parts of Eastern Europe) gifts to friends and relatives those beautiful, handmade adornments, made out of red and white thread.People wear them on the their lapel, hand and even neck. Variations are endless and represent the imagination of their creators. The most traditional ones look as the ones below.
Actually, pretty often as a child, my mother, my sister and I made this kind every year:
However, one can witness really a sea of martenizas on 1st of March. What is more important is that most of the people carry them with smile and on this day, it emerges the face of hope and eagerness for the spring. People celebrate the end of the long winter and along with the warm weather, they wish for health, good luck, love, and joy. Of course, the most excited ones are the children. I remember as a child, I wanted to make sure I have one on my blouse,one on the jacket, one on the school uniform and one on each hand. It was a competition amongst the children who has more.
People are not the only ones who wear them; pets and house animals "are gifted" as well, as the farmers wish for fertile year, health, and luck.
In more recent years people hang them on their house' doors or in the cars and one cannot help it but get infected with the enthusiasm of upcoming spring.
The tradition has been alive for centuries and there are debates about the origins as it is agreed that it has pagan roots. Some of the legends involve the belief that if one does not have marteniza on 1st of March the evil will come in his home. Other legends are more romantic and state that the legend originated as a swallow was carrying white thread as a message of the well-being of a brother to his sister. The swallow got hurt and part of the thread became red. Nevertheless, today marteniza symbolizes the joy that spring brings along and the hope that all the negative that surrounds us will be gone with the winter.
As part of the tradition, people wear the marteniza until they see a swallow or a stork...which in some parts of the country could happen in April or May... Well the most faithful marteniza-lovers wore it until then. Others were satisfied to see a blooming tree and tie the marteniza there, making a wish. In March you can see around Bulgaria trees with marteniza everywhere.