site.btaMartenitsas: Enduring Bulgarian Rite of Spring

Martenitsas: Enduring Bulgarian Rite of Spring
Martenitsas: Enduring Bulgarian Rite of Spring
BTA Photo

Wearing and presenting martenitsas on March 1 is one of the most enduring Bulgarian rites of spring. Customarily, Bulgarians exchange these good luck charms, wishing each other "Chestita Baba Marta" (the equivalent to "Happy Spring").

Originally, martenitsas consisted simply of a red-and-white wool or silk thread, twisted leftward, with a gold or silver coin occasionally tied to it for an abundant harvest. A blue bead is sometimes tied to the martenitsa to ward off evil spells. Craftsmen create ingenious martenitsas, mainly of wool, but also of silk or cotton, in the form of coins, spheres, squares, human or animal figures or tassels with all kinds of trinkets made of wood, leather, ceramics, plastics or metal foil attached to them. The most widely spread shape is a boy and a girl, called Pizho and Penda.

The popular spring amulet was reckoned to protect the wearers: people, cattle and blossoming trees, from diseases, the evil eye and bad luck, and to ensure the fertility of livestock, a plentiful harvest, and farmers' good health and prosperity. The white is a symbol of strength, longevity, the male spirit and sunshine, while the red symbolizes the female spirit and is associated with health, blood, conception, birth and fertility. The white-and-red twisted thread ties them into a single whole, signifying life, good health, joy, and a new beginning. 

This is an ancient pagan tradition, more than a thousand years old. It presumably originated from the Thracians, the oldest known inhabitants of the Bulgarian lands. Another theory traces it back to the Slavs, considering that red and white are essential colours for the Slav peoples (until recently, the national flags of all Slav countries featured these colours).

The martenitsa is worn on the clothing above one's hearth, round the neck (of people and pets), or round the left wrist, or is tied round the horns of cattle or round the branches of fruit trees. It has to stay there until March 9 (Forty Holy Martyrs Day) or March 25 (Annunciation) or until a swallow or a stork returning from migration is first seen, after which it is hung on a branch in blossom or hidden under a rock to welcome spring and to represent the hope that the evil spirits will go to sleep.

Foreign visitors to Bulgaria find martenitsas fascinating. King Charles III seems to be particularly fond of the custom: press photographers spotted him wearing a martenitsa around his wrist long after he received it during a visit to Bulgaria as Prince of Wales in spring 2003, where he was seen with one pinned to the lapel of his suit as well.

Acting on a joint application by Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (now North Macedonia), UNESCO inscribed the martenitsa spring tradition on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in December 2017. "The element has deep roots in the beliefs and traditions of the population of the urban and rural regions across all four countries. The submitting States have indicated the social functions of the element, which enhances the cohesion of the communities concerned, marks the beginning of agricultural activities, serves a psychological and magic function, and helps foster a sense of identity. Both genders play significant roles in the enactment of the practice. Knowledge and skills related to the element are transmitted to the younger generation, especially by women, through informal education. It is clear that the element constitutes a constantly recreated practice of cultural heritage shared by people from four States, symbolically expressing interaction with nature and interpersonal relationships," the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee said in its decision.

The amulet is called martinka in North Macedonia and mărţişor in Romania and Moldova.

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By 12:39 on 18.05.2024 Today`s news

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