From the middle of February, in a number of places in the city and in several locations along Main Street - on Central Square, next to the Municipality, in front of Hali Shopping Center on Rayko Daskalov Street, you will see many temporary stands with interesting creations made of white and red threads. We locals are used to it and especially in the last week before the first of March we diligently replenish our stocks of martenichki, but for foreigners the custom and the meaning behind it is quite peculiar and unknown.
Putting on martenitsi is characteristic of the Balkan Peninsula, and in addition to Bulgaria, it is present in Romania, Moldova, North Macedonia, North Greece, and some areas in Albania. With it, we mark the symbolic beginning of the new economic year, spring and the rebirth of nature.
In its classic form, the martenitsa is a twisted white and red thread, most often woolen. Colors have a strictly defined meaning: red – blood, life; white - purity, happiness. At first, martenitsi were worn only by young women and children, but later everyone began to exchange them. Nowadays, it is most common to wear them on your arm in the form of a bracelet or attached to your clothes. Bulgarians believe that wearing martenitsa will protect you from evil forces and bring you longevity. This is also done for health, luck and success in the coming year.
One of the most famous legends related to the custom dates back to the time of Khan Asparukh. According to the legend, he received a gift from his sister in the form of a bunch of flowers tied to a swallow's leg with white thread. The red dye was from the blood of the bird whose leg was injured by the thread. It is assumed that the swallow arrived to Khan Asparukh exactly on March 1, which is where the tradition of all Bulgarians giving each other red and white martenitsi began. Another tradition reminds us of Khan Kubrat's command to his sons not to separate and to protect Bulgaria. After his death they dispersed, and the chief of the Huns captured their sister and seized the territory. The brothers went in search of new land, and the news of finding a corner south of the Danube was sent by a falcon with a white thread tied to its leg. The bird took the girl to the new land, but at that moment an enemy arrow pierced it, and its blood stained the thread.
People wear martenitsi only for a certain period of time, associated with the signs of the approaching spring - blossoming trees, meeting the first arriving migratory birds - storks, swallows or cranes. Then they tie them on a flowering tree, throw them into running water or place them under a rock.
On March 1st, we should mention Baba Marta, who, according to popular beliefs, is either an old limping woman, or a young beautiful girl. All accounts of her are that she is very hot-tempered and moody. It is not by chance that we call March "women's month" here. In the past, Bulgarians believed that when she laughed, it would be sunny and warm outside, but when she got angry, a strong wind blew and clouds obscured the sun. That is why people tried to provoke her favor in every way and wore martenitsi to please her.