December 14, 2014
Kalyna took the amulet off her ankle and wrapped it around Stefan’s wrist. “The martenitsa is given to others as a sign of friendship. It has the power to protect people from evil. The two colors have special meanings. White is for purity, honesty, and clarity. Red is symbolic of blood, life, passion, and love.”
The above is an excerpt from Mystical Emona: Soul’s Journey (Chapter: “A Thread of Hope”).
Bulgarian culture is rich in folklore and traditions surviving since the days of the ancient Thracians. As pagan and Christian religions collided, the celebrations merged into one.
Mystical Emona introduces readers to these ancient Thracian customs, rituals, and traditions that have survived through the centuries.
Today, I’d like to talk about martenitsa (Bulgarian: мартеница). It’s an amulet or bracelet made of red and white yarn that symbolizes the arrival of spring.
This tradition dates back to Thracian times to welcome spring. Orpheus is said to have decorated his harp with such an item. After the long, dark winter, people are ready to awaken, to see the sunlight again and are full of hope and expectations. The colors on the martenitsa also date back to ancient times. Red is the symbol of the sun’s rays, as it becomes more intensive with the coming spring. White is the snow melting away. The two tassels twisted together provided both humans and livestock protection from the evil forces of the dying winter.
Bulgarians begin to wear martenitsi (plural) on March 1 (Baba Marta or Granny Marta Day). They continue to wear them until March 9, March 25, or when they see a stork, sparrow, cuckoo, or blossoming tree. At that point, people remove the bracelet and tie it to a tree to ensure good health and luck throughout the year.
March 25, Blagovets, is a special holiday. The family of my friend, and co-author, ties them to an apple tree in their backyard. They started this tradition fifteen years ago. The tree looks like it is covered with flowers. The red and white amulets dance in the cold winter wind like butterflies and remind them Spring is returning, bringing with it prosperity and hope for a better life.