Martenitza

Martenitza

Type of Holiday: Calendar/Seasonal, Folkloric
Date of Observation: March 1
Where Celebrated: Albania, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Greece, Macedonia, Romania
Symbols and Customs:
Colors: This festival is associated with the colors red and white. Red, symbolizing life, is believed to possess the power to drive away evil. White symbolizes the sun and purity. ORIGINS

Martenitza, celebrated on the first day of March, marks the beginning of spring in Bulgaria and the beginning of summer in Greece. The holiday marks the changing of the seasons, which people in all parts of the world have honored since ancient times. Many cultures divided the year into two seasons, summer and winter, and marked these points of the year at or near the summer and winter solstices, during which light and warmth began to increase and decrease, respectively. In preindustrial times, all humans survived through hunting, gathering, and agricultural practices, which depend on the natural cycle of seasons, according to the climate in the region of the world in which they lived. Thus, they created rituals to help ensure enough rain and sun in the spring and summer so crops would grow to fruition at harvest time, which was, in turn, duly celebrated. Vestiges of many of these ancient practices are thought to have survived in festivals still celebrated around seasonal themes.

The custom of exchanging MARTENITZAS , or tassels made of red and white threads, on the first day of March is most widespread in Bulgaria, although it is common in southern Romania, Albania, Greece, and Cyprus as well.

The rites associated with the holiday are varied. In some regions, the women dress completely in red on this day. In northeastern Bulgaria, the lady of the house tosses a red cloth over a fruit tree, or spreads a red woolen cloth on the fields to improve their fertility. In stock-breeding areas, a red-and-white thread is tied to the cattle. In Greece, the martenitza (which means "March") is tied to the wrist or big toe of children to protect them from the intense March sun. There is a widespread folk belief that children should wear their martenitza until they see the first swallow of the year. Then they should hide it under a stone. When the stone is lifted forty days later, ants indicate that wealth and happiness will come to the owner of the martenitza; but if there are worms, it means bad luck. Sometimes the martenitza is thrown on a rosebush in the garden, or tossed in the air when the first swallow is sighted. How these customs originated has been forgotten, but it is likely that the fate of the martenitza and of the person who wore it were somehow connected.

Bulgarians and Macedonians living in Canada exchange twists of red and white thread, known as marteniki, on the first day of March. When they see the first robins, they toss down the threads for the birds to use in their nest-building.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

The red-and-white thread tassel that gives this holiday its name can be traced back to the ancient Thracians, who attached silver or gold coins to their martenitzas. March was the first month of the year in ancient Greece, and it is believed that the martenitza was originally a means of wishing each other good luck in the coming year. Since that time it has remained a symbol of good health and happiness, an appropriate token to exchange at a time of year when life is renewing itself.

FURTHER READING

Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992.

WEB SITE

Bulgarian Guide www.bulgarian-guide.com/bulgarian-traditions/martenitsa

Martenitza

March 1
Every year on March 1, people in Bulgaria present each other with martenitzas —two joined tassels of red-and-white woolen thread resembling a simple Christmas decoration symbolizing health and happiness. The custom originated with the ancient Thracians, and the first martenitzas had silver or gold coins attached to them. Today it is most widespread in Bulgaria, although the Martenitza is also celebrated in southern Romania, Albania, Greece, and Cyprus.
The rites are varied. In some regions, women dress completely in red on this day. In northeastern Bulgaria, the lady of the house traditionally tosses a red cloth over a fruit tree, or spreads a red woolen cloth on the fields for fertility. In stock-breeding areas, a red-and-white thread is tied to the cattle. Bulgaria is the only country where this particular fertility custom seems to have survived. In Greece the "March" is tied to the wrist or big toe of children to protect them from the March sun. They remove it when they see the first swallow or stork, signs of springtime. On Cyprus it is hoped that one's skin will be as red (healthy) as the string. In Canada, Bulgarian-Macedonians throw the string out for the first robins to use in their nests.
See also Drymiais
SOURCES:
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 197