Baba Marta (Grandmother March)


March 1st is probably our most intrinsic holiday because it is unique to Bulgaria. The custom of wearing martenitsas (red-and-white threads worn as a decoration) is only popular in Bulgaria and it is perhaps the most positive one in all our folklore. The traditions related to March 1st as well as the martenitsas themselves are associated with optimism and anticipation of warmer weather, fertility and well-being. This tradition is based upon the founding of Bulgaria in 681 AD and there are many more than one folk-legend about the origin of this celecrated day. The name March comes from the Latin Martius, i.e. ‘of Mars’, the god of war, son of Jupiter and Junona. Old Bulgarians called it “birch month” – because the birch trees begin to grow leaves and give sap. Other traditions connected with March include that very early in the morning, even before the month begins, the young ones must be the first to meet the willful old woman. Thus she will be smiling and merry, the weather will be good and sunny. Also, in March people may be reluctant to have their hair cut so that she does not "cut" their brains and they become stupid. Children usually compete who will get the most and often walk around more ornate than a Christmas tree. However, it always bears the same meaning - a lucky charm against the evil spirits of the world, a token for health and a sign of appreciation.

Below, we have entered our collected folklore tales about Bulgaria's Baba Marta and hope you enjoy them.


Many, many years ago, Khan Isperih left his home in the far away Tibetan mountains and went in search of fertile land for his people, the proto-Bulgarians. He crossed many mountains and rivers until finally he stopped in the land of the Slavs who met him cordially. Slav women, dressed in white, brought him cups of wine and the tables were piled with food, the fruits of this blessed land.

But the khan was not happy for he was sick for his family – his mother and his sister Kalina. He sat on the bank of the big river and tears like pearls dropped down his masculine cheeks. His eyes looked in prayer towards the sun and the gods. And then the miracle happened.

A swift swallow alighted on his shoulder, and Isperih told her of his grief. The swallow flew away to the lands from which the Bulgarians came and told Kalina in a human voice that her brother has a new kingdom, that he grieves about her and sends her greetings.

Kalina was very happy to hear that and decided to send a message to her brother. She made a nosegay of green plants, tied it with white woolen thread, made some knots on it meaning best regards and sent it back with the swallow.

The bird flew like thunder and very soon was on the shoulder of Isperih again. But after the long journey, its wing was wounded and its bright red blood had tinted the thread. The khan took the nosegay with joy, read in the knots his sister’s greetings, put the nosegay on his breast and the martenitza shone bright.

Since that moment, Isperih ordered his people to make a bunch of twisted white and red thread and wear it on their breasts on this day – for health and blessing from heaven.

This happened on 1st of March and the tradition has remained until this day.



On the morning of 1st of March, people set fire in the yards of their houses, with lots of smoke. Then everybody jumps over the fire three times, facing the rising sun, in order to be purified from evil forces and guarded against diseases. The lady of the house takes out red clothes and fabrics and puts them on the branches of the trees in front of the house and on the fence. Only then does she decorate the children and the animals with the martenitzas made from woolen or cotton thread.

On the first of March and the days following, all Bulgarian people give to each other strips or small woolen dolls called Pigo and Penda, decorations also known as Martenitzi. They are so named because they carry the name of March, or in Bulgarian, Mart.

According to tradition, Mart is an angry old lady who rapidly changes her mood from bad to good and back again. She is Grandmother March, in Bulgarian "Baba Marta."


Christians tell the story that many years ago, when people were merry they dressed in white clothes. Thus on an early morning of 1st of March, in the year when Jesus was to come among the people, Virgin Mary, dressed in white, stood in the middle of the room in front of the fire, cut a strip of her skirt and dyed it with her virgin blood. Then she twisted it with another white strip and decorated her breast. She went out on the verandah to meet the first rays of the sun and announce to the universe the expected fertility and to bless it… And Jesus Christ was born, consubstantial with God the Father, incarnated by the Holy Ghost and Virgin Mary – the Holy Mother. Since then the twisted white and red is called “martenitza”. On the first day of March all Bulgarian women, all children and the domestic animals are decorated with it to be healthy, to be fertile and bring happiness to the family. According to Christians living along the river Tonsos, this Bulgarian custom is unique and expresses homage to the Mother of God.

The newest of these folk legends says that the early Bulgarians were fighting a lot, and it seemed the wars would start at the beginning of March. And, as the men went off to war, they would leave their families at home. The women were especially unhappy about this, being understandably quite concerned about the lives of their husbands. They would give to their husbands small red and white tokens, which were either red and white cloth strips for the hand, or small woolen figures of a white girl and a red boy (Pijo and Penda). The red color was chosen to represent the blood of the warriors, (which their wives didn't want spilled) while the white was the pale color on the faces of their women as they waited for their husbands to return home. The exchange of these tokens was made to remind the warriors about their families and to please Baba Marta, so she would not change her mood so frequently; put another way, to ward off problems with the weather and die from the cold.


In the traditional Bulgarian martenitza, womenfolk might entwine coins, cloves of dry garlic, beads, iron rings, hairs of horsetail, snail shells, etc. That is why the martenitza is considered to be a charm against evil forces.

Children wear their martenitzas on the right wrist, around the neck or on the breast, while young girls and brides wear it around the neck or woven into their hair. Men, however, tie the martenitza above their left elbow or left ankle. In some regions they put it in the shoe under the left heel for if someone sees them with a martenitza their masculinity may be "tied". Martenitzas are tied on young animals and the fruit trees.

People wear the martenitza until they see a stork. Then they tie it on a fruit-tree branch, make a wish and are sure that it will come true.

The tradition remains the same today as it started, although today Bulgarians give the red and white colors only to please Baba Marta so she will not make us cold. In doing so, we are expressing the hope that the spring will come as quickly as possible. Once we have those tokens, which we put on our clothing or wear on our wrist, we keep them until we see a sign of spring; a bird associated with spring such as a stork, crane or swallow or blossoming trees.

Only after seeing that sign do we remove the tokens, because then we know that spring has truly arrived. In different parts of the country, however, the process may be a bit different.

After seeing the stork, some will tie the Martenitza on a fruit tree, symbolically giving the tree the health and luck that they had while wearing the token. Others will put the token under a stone. The kind of insect found alongside the token the next day will determines their health for the rest of the year. If it is a worm or an ant, it will be a very healthy year, and they will have success, although the ant means that they will have to work a lot in order to reach success. If it is a spider, then they are in trouble and might not have good luck with health and personal success.

On the first of March everybody should wear a martenitsa, especially young children, just married couples or newly-born domestic animals. Sometimes even the fruit trees, the handles of the door, or the vines in the vineyard also have their own martenitsa.

Selling Martinetzi
On the days preceeding March 1, streets in all of Bulgaria are lined with displays such as this one.

There are literally thousands of styles and sizes for the Martenitza and hundreds of greeting card styles such as the one below:

Mart greeting


Also of importance are the last three days of March, the 28th through 31st, known as "BABINI DNI" or (Granny Marta's Days). According to another legend which further discloses the contrary temperament of March:

Long, long ago, when the days of Granny Marta were 28 in number, in a little village tucked away in the mountain there lived a quarrelsome old woman with her two white goats. On the last day of the month the sun shone and the old woman took the goats to the hill to get some sun and graze the young sprouts. But being a shrew, she didn't miss making fun of Granny Marta for her going away and cried at the forest: "Marta parta, go away, I took out my goats, be-e-e-"! Well, as you could guess Granny Marta grew angry but her time was running out. She flew to her brother February and asked him to borrow three of his days. Like a good little brother, February gave them to her. Then Granny Marta started raging, piercing whirlwinds blew and the ground was frozen with ice. The old woman and her two goats were frozen too.

From that day, Marta grew with three days and the people respect these days. They don't work in the fields lest they should make the granny angry. In some villages these days are called "borrowed" and people sow beans by their houses for they grow to be sweeter. If the weather is clear and nice, people know that silkworms in the spring will be healthy and there will be much silk. If the days are cloudy and rainy, the silkworms will be weak and the fruit will not grow well.


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Richard Zastrow

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