Martenitsa Rush: welcoming spring in a shade of red and white

If you ever lived in Bulgaria for some time surely you were questioning the small objects made from the red and white yarn tied on the trees which you can see basically in every garden, park or forest all year long. team had an opportunity to see the varied faces of the preparations of “Martenitsi”, tokens specific for the spring-welcoming tradition on First of March, typical for the Balkan countries.  

On Thursday 22th February in Municipal Library of Kazanlak, we participated in the making-of Martenitsi organized for the children from several primary schools in Kazanlak. Librarians together with the teachers collaborated to help the kids with making basic bracelets from white and red threads.

For us, it was the first encounter with making such a particular work and luckily, children were excited to help us with it as soon as they finished their own handiwork. Although the action seems more girlish -and truly, in the past, it was forbidden to men to make Martenisti- every boy was tangling red and white yarns together with the same enjoyment as the girls did.

This process is made in couples – each one is twisting different thread. As our bracelets were coming by to a perfect shapes teachers were reading the legends and fairytales about the Baba Marta and the whole tradition itself.  While we immersed ourselves to make the very basic Martenitsas, some advanced craftsmen among the pupils were adding different kinds of accessories to their work. The library provided workshops from Wednesday 21th so a big amount of children from Kazanlak could come to make their own crafts and be ready on the First of March to give them to their friends and family!

Day after, on Friday 23th February, Denitsa Stefanova from Chitalisthe in Shipka in collaboration with the Museum of History Iskra in Kazanlak organized another Martenitsi-making workshop in the museum’s Lapidarium. Venelina Ilieva -specialist from the museum- took us on a brief journey to the times when the tradition started.

After her short presentation, Denitsa described the detailed and precise process of making Pizhu and Penda which are male and female characters in Bulgarian folklore usually presented as twins (can be also simply brother and sister, sometimes they’re also considered as lovers). The dolls can be made from materials like wool or felt, with crochet accessories, sewed eyes, and hats, etc.

Remember, that once you start to make Pizhu, you must make Penda and the other way round as well, because just as it is with the twins, they can’t live without each other. Afterwards, you tie them with red and white thread on a tree when the right time comes. Pizhu and Penda are not the only types of the Martenitsi. The very first ones were, for example, “Topki” – small furry balls made out from red yarn whose preparation couldn’t take you more than 5 minutes what we cannot be said about the woolen dolls.

Next week we continued with the “Martenitsi Rush” while the steps led us to Sofia to attend “Martenitsa – Step by step” event organized by the volunteers running very successful initiative Survival BG. The name prepared us for a Martenitsi workshop yet the context of the event was much more international indeed. Therefore introducing the Bulgarian well-known tradition was accompanied by presenting Martisor and Martinka as a Romanian and Macedonian variety. In a usual place – Dada Cultural Bar on Monday 26th February, 3 speakers were invited to tell us about the differences and similarities of this habit in their countries.

Paula Lorena Sabou (Romania) introduced the Martisor to the audience: a small badge pinned to her sweater close to the heart. The object could be anything that symbolizes the arrival of the spring, like a four-leaf clover, ladybug, bouquet of spring flowers or, in some cases a coin. Essential is that Martisor must to be trapped in the red and white thread, similar to the one which Martenitsi are famous for.

People are pinning them to each other pieces of clothing usually on their chest however, it’s nothing special to give the Martisor also to the animals. Reasons for doing so can be easily described in three words: Friendship, Respect, and Admiration.

Throughout the years’ people gave various meanings to the tradition such as showing reverence for women, some were considering Martisor as a “luck ornament”. You might also write a short message on the badge like “Primavara Fericita” (Happy spring), “Mult Noroc” (Good luck) but also “La multi ani” (Happy New Year, Happy Birthday) which is most likely connected with times before 18th century, when the New Year was celebrated on the First of March.

And when the month, which supposedly announcing spring fly away as a little swallow at the beginning of autumn, Romanians hang Martisor on a door or window to keep the health and fortune with them all year long.

Martinka is a female name in many Slavic countries nevertheless, in Macedonia, the word describes mentioned spring celebration, too. Bile Hristovska explained, that even though the tradition is popular only in a western part of the country close to the Bulgarian border, there are still some visible differences.

If you would look for pairs of people sitting next to each other and twisting the strings collectively in Macedonia, you probably go away empty-handed. Martinki are made solely by everyone on their own. It tells us how necessary is to value ourselves equally to the others.

Children, too young to make Martinki by themselves receive them from the oldest woman of the family as an object of protection against charms. With the arrival of the first stork, swallow or snowdrop flowers ones tie the Martinki on a tree to make the upcoming year wonderful and healthy.

According to a Bulgarian tradition, you should take Martenitsi off from your left wrist when you see the first blossom tree, yet the symbol of a stork occurs again, too. Besides explaining the mission of the Goddess of Spring Baba Marta, the 3rd speaker Gergana Yordanova adviced the audience to choose carefully one day in March, because if the weather on that day will be good you might expect the next year to be wholesome. The rest of the evening participants spent creatively – by making tones of the Mart-enitsi; Mart-isors and Mart-inki. 

And after every preparation, there should be a realization! First of March knocked on the door on Thursday of the same week when team spent a nice intercultural evening in Sofia. With enough Martenitsi for decorating a Christmas tree only by them, we joined children and the therapists from Day Care Centre for Children with Disabilities in their visit of two local Elderly Houses to wish “Chestiti Baba Marta” (Happy Grandma Marta) to everyone. In a special day like this, the warmth of the coming Spring is in every piece of your body, even if the snow blizzard is larking outside.

Zhivy zdravi za vsichki vas! (Safe and sound to everyone!).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.