Grandma March, Martenitsas and Bulgarian Liberation…

Posted by in Exploration

It is that time of the year again! March is a funny month in Bulgaria… If you walk down the streets, you will see people wearing red and white “voodoo-type” (as some people have kindly referred to them) little dolls on their jackets and red-white bracelets made of threads round their wrists. Except that these are not voodoo dolls and just random pieces of string but Martenitsas – an expression of an ancient tradition which has been preserved throughout the centuries of Bulgarian history. I will save myself the pain of explaining the whole custom and will quote Wiki instead:

“On the first day of March and for a few days afterwards, Bulgarians exchange and wear white and red tassels or small dolls called “Пижо и Пенда” (Pizho and Penda). In Bulgarian folklore the name Baba Marta (in Bulgarian “баба Марта”, meaning Grandma March) is related to a grumpy old lady whose mood swings change very rapidly.
This is an old pagan tradition that remains almost unchanged today. The common belief is that by wearing the red and white colours of the martenitsa, people ask Baba Marta for mercy.”

“The tradition calls for wearing the martenitsa until the person sees a stork or a blooming tree. The stork is considered a harbinger of spring and as evidence that Baba Marta is in a good mood and is about to retire.”

And here is the story that got so many people excited…. the symbol of the pigeon messenger!

“A legend, first attested in the 20th century, says that the Bulgar Khan Asparukh wanted to send a message to Bulgars across the Danube. He tied his letter with a white string to the leg of a white pigeon. The Byzantines saw the pigeon flying and shot it with an arrow. The message was delivered but the white string was stained with the red of the pigeon’s blood. The Bulgars then started to wear this thread.”

The 1 March celebration is immediately followed by Bulgaria’s national holiday – 3 March – the Liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire in 1878. A kind doodle by Google…

Shipka Peak (where this monument stands today) is the place where the final battles between the Russian troopers, aided by Bulgarian volunteers, and the Ottoman soldiers were fought.