Martenitsa | Bring on the Spring with this Bulgarian tradition

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by Svetla Morrison

NOTE: Svelta is hosting a FREE Martenitsa workshop at the Coffee Pot Cafe on Sunday, Feb. 28 at 1:30 pm. Get details and sign up here.

 

I am from Bulgaria. But my husband isn’t. And so, when we joined our lives together, it seemed only natural to also join traditions from the two cultures that shaped us into who we are.

We then found ourselves celebrating double holidays year-round. What a deal, ah?!

However, what my husband didn’t see coming from this initially appealing arrangement was that every year, from March 1, for at least a couple of weeks, he’ll need to wear a bracelet made from white and red yarn called Martenitsa, typical exclusively for the Bulgarian region.

Now, as a loving husband, he hasn’t objected one bit for over 10 years now. But I also know he has grown to love and anticipate the approach of March 1 with a great desire (not only because it’s his birthday month).

And who wouldn’t!?

Martenitsi (“i” is for plural) are related to a welcoming spring tradition and received their name from the name of the month March in Bulgarian, which is Mart – Martenitsa.

Honestly, what else is left for one to do during the cold months after Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and Valentine’s Day have checked out than to open the door and say, “Bye, bye!” to her Highness Great Winter of Snow in a (better be) festive way.

M on wrist 2And so, people used to get together during the long dark hours of winter to create their white and red spring promises to their close ones for the first day of March. Nowadays though, if you were in Bulgaria, you’d simply buy your Martenitsi. Shapes and sizes have changed too. Anything could pass for Martenitsa these days. As long as it is red and white.

But their main properties persist. The white color symbolizes purity and honesty, and the red one – life and passion. From its very origins, the gift of Martenitsa was used as a reminder of the constant cycle between life and death, which today has translated as a wish for good health for its recipient. The balance of the red and white colors are also associated with the male and female beginnings and the need for balance.

So, every year on March 1, one would collect (or wish for) a countless amount of Martenitsi on their wrist, for the shared knowledge of their value, fused with the crisp March air, produce the excitement of starting anew. Folks will faithfully wear them for a few weeks, religiously taking them off and putting them on for shower and bed. It takes determination to bring spring, you know. I’ve always seen this group persistence as a collective attempt to visually resurface the sense of hope and appreciation for life in all its forms.

“But what happens with the Martenitsi after the couple of weeks you mentioned?!” you ask. Great point!

By the third week you are itching (both literally and figuratively) to see either a blooming tree or a migrating bird, and to finally have your wrists back to yourself as well as your bed and shower routine. And when the lucky day comes (Halleluiah!), you simply slip those pretty gifts off, tie them on a tree and have a wish. Better make it a big one!

Svetla Morrison favors the use of various (auditory, linguistic, visual) methods of communication to interact with the audience. She likes to think of herself as a creative. You can find her on facebook, instagram and twitter.

If interested, join my free, annual Martenitsi making workshop this year, at the end of February. For details email  InternationalAkron@gmail.com.

 

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