In spring Bulgarians wear red and white tassels and bracelets named martenitsa – an ancient ritual to welcome spring and ask nature for abundance and health.

Tradition requires that on March 1 Bulgarians adorn their jackets or shirts with martenitsi, or wear one as a bracelet. Martenitsa (pl. martenitsi) is usually made of white and red threads twisted around each other. White symbolizes innocence, purity, and happiness. Red symbolizes vivacity, health and love. Red is celebrated as the color of victory and life. Bulgarians believe that martenitsa protects from evil spirits, and that is why every person wears at least one.

Martenitsa Is a Symbol of Nearing Spring in Bulgaria

March 1 is regarded as the day when spring begins in Bulgaria. This is when Bulgarians prepare with anticipation for the end of winter and the new fresh beginning that spring brings with it. Martenitsi are given as presents between family and friends, and are worn until the person wearing them sees a stork, a swallow or a budding tree. Bulgaria has four clearly distinct seasons, and winter can get rather harsh. Its moderate continental climate is not suitable for birds like storks and swallows during the severe winter months, so they migrate south. When Bulgarians start noticing storks and swallows in the fields, over roads or in the villages and towns they know spring is not too far away. This is why they take off their martenitsi and tie them to a budding tree or hide them under a rock or a large stone. Traditionally, the tree should be one that gives fruit so that the year ahead will be bountiful.

The Ancient Pagan Ritual That Started the Wearing of Martenitsa

The ritual of martenitsa decoration is an ancient one. Many legends tell various stories of how the custom first began. It is believed that the sister of khan Asparuh (who founded Bulgaria in 681 AD), Huna, was captured, and to give a sign of her location she sent her falcon to her brother. Huna tied a long white thread to the falcon’s leg, and held on to the other end of the thread. Somehow the falcon was wounded, and its blood painted the thread red. Following the thread Huna was able to escape to her brother, and was saved. The white and red thread became a symbol of hope, health, love, long life, and abundance.

Pizho and Penda – the Martenitsa Celebrities

Today the industry of martenitsa-making has turned martenitsi into decorative pieces. They are not only made of twisted white and red thread anymore. Pizho and Penda and human-shaped tassels made of yarn. Pizho is the male one, and Penda is the female. One is white, and the other is red. They are the most popular form of martenitsa after the bracelet. This tradition is extremely popular with children. The main reason is that martenitsi for kids are usually accompanied by plastic trinkets representing anything from animals and insects to cartoon characters and action heroes.


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