Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Baba Marta

Spring Holiday Season Begins!

Finally, after surviving a long and especially snowy winter, Bulgaria rewards us with a series of spring holidays. The first, and my favorite, is the tradition of Baba Marta (Grandma Marta). Like spring, Grandma Marta is a capricious old gal and since she will change about the weather a bit in the next month, she gives us something to hang on (to). On the first of March, we buy little red and white bracelets called Martenitzi and give them to our friends and family. As we give and receive the Martenitza, we wish each other luck, happiness, health, love and success. You can sometimes spot a teacher from far away because of her massive, bright red arm with a wild assortment of beads and even action figures attached to the Martenizi from her students (little wonder why this is my favorite of the spring holidays!). The white is a symbol of peace and fertility and the red is symbolic of the blood that Bulgarian soldiers have shed fighting wars. There's a legend that a dove carrying a piece of white thread was injured and when Khan Asparuh saw it, the red and white thread looked like a Martenizta (please correct me on the historical accuracy there, if you have more specifics). Nowadays we wear these bracelets and pins (sometimes the Martenitzi are pins made out of thread in the shape of a boy Pijou and a girl Penda) until we see the first bud of spring on a tree or a stork. We then place the Martenitza on the tree or under a stone. I only saw one stork last year (since they're harder to come by in town), but soon my town will be covered in red, white, and green as things begin blooming (what's not to love about this holiday!).

The next major holiday we celebrated was the Bulgarian Independence Day on March 3rd, 1878. This was the day that the treaty was signed that liberated Bulgaria from the Turkish Empire. For a better explanation, try my friend Jason's blog, On March 3rd, we generally have a flag raising ceremony in the center and people go to leave flowers and wreaths at the Russian monument in our town. My day consisted of lots of walking around town and drinking too much coffee in the café.

I've included some pictures of a show that recently came through my town, The Pirin Ensemble, a vocal and dance folklore ensemble. It was really impressive, and one of my friends that sings Bulgarian folklore explained to me how the dancers were wearing traditional Bulgarian costumes for different aspects of rural life, for example one woman was sowing seeds, another group of girls were pinning flowers to the hats of their young men, and the men were wearing handkerchiefs on their heads to protect their heads from the sun while they reaped wheat. They did all this while rapidly dancing to the haunting music of a women's choir and a folk orchestra, strings, clarinet, bagpipe and all. It's one thing to watch typical Bulgarian dance on television and quite another to see it live.

This month I had a mini celebration of my own. Instead of having a test in my literature classes, we played Jeopardy. The winning teams got to come 'na gosti' to my apartment and we ate Mexican (ok, Tex-Mex with Bulgarian ingredients) food, something that was new to my students, although a little too spicy for some. We also made S'mores by candlelight and hilarity ensued, including a séance, scary stories, and swing dancing. See for yourself in the attached pictures.

There are many holidays to come and I was quite surprised last year by all the days off in May last year. The burst of cheer in March has us off to a nice start.