Baba Marta Day is definitely not one of those traditions that get much press outside of Europe. Really, it probably goes not much further than the Bulgarian border. But it is one of the oldest pagan traditions in Christian Europe, so it deserves attention.
Baba Marta Day is celebrated in Bulgaria on every March 1st, coinciding with the transition of winter into spring. Baba is Bulgarian for “grandmother” and Marta is “March”, so it is “Grandmother March Day,” or “Granny March Day,” in English. The tradition is for people to buy or fashion red- and white-colored gifts made of string, called martenitsa (plural martenitsi). Martenitsi are usually fashioned into a thin bracelet and given to friends as a way to keep away Baba Marta (Bulgarian: Баба Марта), who is, according to legend, a very bipolar woman that controls whether or not spring and good weather come soon. Those wearing a martenitsa (Bulgarian: мартеница), which can also resemble a woven ornament of a man or woman, called Pizho and Penda (Bulgarian: Пижо и Пенда), are spared the old woman’s wrath of more winter.
The colors of martenitsi are always red and white, and there are varying answers as to why; basically it is a wish for good health and prosperity to the recipient for the rest of the year. On the Pizho and Penda, the male doll is usually distinguished by its white dominating color, while Penda, the female doll, is usually mostly red. The tradition continues that when a person hands another a martenitsa on March 1st, that person wears it until they see a stork or a tree in bloom. Then, usually, the person can take their martenitsa off and tie it on the tree, which is what the main photo above shows.
The greeting exchanged on this day is Chestita Baba Marta (Честита Баба Марта – “Happy Baba Marta,” often shortened to ЧБМ on greetings cards).
I was inspired to research and write this article about this just by glancing at this photo from my good friend, Bob, who allowed me to use it in my article. Bob Leathers is a great photographer who constantly blows my socks off with his random shots, and he has some quite refined tastes in music. Check out his music project’s home page here: The Wandering Musicphile.