Baba Marta’s Day
I will start by talking about the activity that we, the volunteers of the Parallels project, did on the 26th of February. On the occasion of the arrival of Baba Marta’s day on the 1st of May, we met with the children of the kindergarten, teachers and workers of one of the museums of Tryavna. In this museum the children sang a song about the arrival of Baba Marta, and we learned how to make martenitsas, good luck bracelets for the year, with the help of one of the museum workers, who kindly helped us and showed us how to make them. There are several ways to make them. Normally two colours of wool, red and white, are used. One person takes one end of the red woolen yarn while another person takes one end of the white woollen yarn. Each person starts to twist the yarn in a different direction. When the yarn is very tightly twisted, the two people let go of the ends and join the two strands together. Then you tie a knot and you have your bracelet simply braided. Another way to make the bracelets is to braid the coloured threads.
To understand more about the spirit of this tradition I will explain step by step the popular history of the Baba Marta festivity, and the meaning of the martinitsas, as well as other objects that are made on this day, such as the woollen Pizho and Penda dolls.
Baba Marta or grandmother Marza (because Mart in Bulgarian language means March) is the name given in Bulgaria to the spirit of March. She is angry with her brothers January and February, which is why she is portrayed as an old woman in a bad mood, because her brothers have drunk all the wine left over from the previous year and would not let her taste it. According to popular tradition, as this is a month of changeable weather, when it rains Baba Marta is sad and when it is sunny Baba Marta is happy. In this month in Bulgaria the last snowfalls occur, and people create bracelets or martinitsas with the colours white and red, and give them to relatives, friends and acquaintances to wish them love, happiness and luck for the whole year, as well as to calm the changing mood of Baba Marta.
The white one is used to wish good luck, and the red one to wish good health for the year. At the end of May these bracelets are hung on the branches of the trees to make this wish for good health and prosperity come true. Tradition has it that if you see a stork or swallow you should hang the bracelet first. Both are signs that spring is already here. On the other hand also two dolls are made with wool, one white and one red, as shown in the picture. They are called Pizho and Penda. Pizho is the white doll and represents a man, and Penda is the red doll and represents a woman. These dolls are usually placed inside houses or if they are small they can be put on clothes. They are also made into brooches with wool and put on clothes. The greeting that is exchanged on the 1st of March is Chestita Baba Marta, which as explained before means happy Grandmother Marza.
After listening to the children’s song about Baba Marta, it was our turn to explain a festivity in Spain in which, like the Baba Marta festivity, you give someone else an object that symbolizes your good wishes for that person. We chose the day of Saint Jordi. On this day, commonly celebrated mainly in Catalonia, you give a flower and a book to the person you love, as a symbol of love. This day has a story, which we wrote in a book that we painted gold. The story translated into English, Spanish and Bulgarian tells the story of a knight named Jordi, who saved a princess from being devoured by a dragon. This dragon terrorized the inhabitants of a village, because every so often it devoured a man, woman or child. The knight killed the dragon and from the blood of the dragon that fell to the ground grew a rose bush, from which sprouted the most beautiful red roses ever seen. The knight took one of the roses and gave it to the princess he had saved, showing his love for her.
For the children to enjoy learning about Saint Jordi’s Day we drew a sword and a dragon. We painted them, sticking them on a wooden stick, and we also made a paper rose, which we gave them together with the book. We also handed out the story of the knight and the dragon on paper so that they could read it easily, translated into Bulgarian.
We found it very easy to enjoy this activity because we found that they patiently attended to learn about the history of this day in Spain. We should point out that Saint Jordi’s Day is not celebrated on the 26th of February or the 1st of May. It is a holiday celebrated on the 23rd of April, but there is no such holiday as Baba Marta in Spain. Normally there are activities when spring arrives, mainly for young people to enjoy socializing with each other and enjoy the good weather. But there is no specific day to celebrate the arrival of spring.
To end the activity, we went down to the garden of the museum, where the children gave us a present that they had made in class, these presents were paper storks with a martinitsa around the neck of the stork, and brooches with the colors white and red. The storks were given to the women, and the brooch to the men. The storks also symbolism fertility.
In our activity this day took place inside the museum and later around the garden, as the weather was very nice. The children and adults enjoyed the good weather that Baba Marta provided, enjoying the garden and the sunshine. No doubt this grumpy grandmother was in a good mood because we were talking about her!
Our feeling at the end of the day was very pleasant. We felt that we had enjoyed a fun learning moment with the children, and that at the same time we had learned more about the Bulgarian culture. We realized that this culture is full of stories or myths to explain natural phenomena. The more you get to know the traditions of Bulgaria the more you fall in love with it. On the 1st of May we put on our bracelets, to hang them at the end of the month on a fruit tree or put them under a plant. We look forward to the moment when the trees will be filled with martinitsas and Pizhos and Pendas all over the city of Tryavna, painting the city white and red with the best wishes of prosperity and love. As they say in Bulgarian, Chestita Baba Marta! We hope that your wishes for prosperity and love will come true!