March 1st. Today you have the unique opportunity to tell with almost 99% confidence if a person is Bulgarian or not.
You also have the chance to celebrate an ancient and little-known holiday that symbolizes the advent of spring.
And you can use this occasion to wish someone good health, prosperity and happiness in a way that would certainly surprise them.
So first things first. Do you want to impress your friends by showing off as a worldly connoisseur of traditions from distant lands and cultures? To do that you only need to look for the woven red-and-white amulet pictured above. Whenever you see someone wearing it on March 1, bet your friends that person is Bulgarian. Then, approach that person with confidence and salute them by saying “Happy Baba Marta!” Once they overcome their surprise, ask them if they come from Bulgaria. When they answer positively, go back to your friends and collect the money from your bet. 🙂
Now, on a more serious note, let me explain quickly what this ancient holiday is all about. March 1st has been ingrained in the Bulgarian people’s national psyche as the symbol of change — when the winter starts moving away, and the spring is just around the corner. On that day, the ancient Bulgarians celebrated Баба Марта (transliterated as Baba Marta, which literally means Old Granny March). Thousands of years ago, the Bulgarians and their ancestors believed that Old Granny March would bring around the much coveted change in seasons. They celebrated her and prayed that she would bring a prosperous and abundant new year. Since those ancient times, Bulgarians have been wearing an amulet consisting of interwoven red and white threads. This amulet is called мартеница (transliterated as martenitsa). White symbolizes purity and soul; red is a symbol of life and passion.
Finally, a quick explanation about wishing health, prosperity and happiness. You never buy a martenitsa for yourself. You always give it as a gift to someone you love (your parents, your significant other, your kids). By wearing the martenitsa, your loved ones will hope to feel the influx of energy from the nearing spring.
So go ahead, and wish a “Happy Baba Marta!” to a Bulgarian that you may run into at the airport, train station or in a café on the street. We are a small people, but you’ll be surprised to find out how many of us are traversing the world at any point of time. I guarantee you that this small gesture of friendliness will put a smile on any Bulgarian’s face today. I, too, am wearing my discreet martenitsa on my arm, right next to my watch (as seen on the picture at right).
And if you liked the tradition described in my post, go ahead and wish your loved ones good health, prosperity and happiness. If you can’t find a martenitsa, you can substitute it with any small gift. Just a small token to remind them they are important to you. I guarantee you they will all appreciate that.
Share your experiences in the comments section. Did you recognize any Bulgarians by seeing them wear the martenitsa? Did you dare salute them? Were your loved ones surprised by the unexpected gift you got them today?