March Comes with the Good Annunciation
The world is born precisely in this month and our people is celebrating that with no less than three holidays.
Everything could be expected from this month: good and evil, sun or snow, days of purification, of tidying up of the soul, but also of a universe not yet put in order, and exposed to innumerable risks as a consequence. Inconstant and whimsical, “much like a woman” as it is often said, yet the matter is, as always, more complicated than clichés. The birth of the universe in March is marked not only in the astronomical calendar, with the spring solstice on the 22nd, but also in the popular holidays calendar – with no less than three holidays: the First of March (a unique Bulgarian holiday), Mladentzi (St. Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, March 9), and Blagovetz (Annunciation, March 25). On three occasions is our people doing its magical invocations. It blesses and opens through them the way to the true spring, which comes on Blagovetz, when the church’s bells make the annunciation of the inception of the Young God, and the swallow brings the good news that the winter left.
Shrewd and capricious
Everybody knows that Marta may make us laugh but may also make us cry. She is called the only female month in the calendar, yet according to one tale, long ago March was a man. He had two spouses, one ugly and old, and the other one beautiful and young. When March looked at the first one, the weather turned cold and foggy; when he looked at the second one, it was getting warmer and the sun shined. Whatever the truth, to Bulgarians, Marta is the symbol of the reviving principle and they tried to delight her and to make her laugh all the time.
If she were joyful, the weather, too, would be good. A red cloth was put on the roof of the house or in the front yard on a fruit tree and was left there for nine days. As soon as Marta took a glimpse of it, she was beaming all the way. The red colour had also a protective role. Marta was also rejoicing when peeking at the martenitzas that people bore attached because of her, and especially when her sight was caught by children, maids, and young brides. Most likely, this was because she linked maids and brides to fertility and the new birth that she was bearing herself. On the other hand, elderly women were avoiding going out of home on the first of March, to avoid meeting and irritating her.
On March 1, the Bulgarian woman would clean her house – to make it shine and beam from cleanliness as it should be before each new beginning. She would shake the mattresses outside under the sunshine, would burn her old broom in the courtyard and chant: “Out fleas, in Marta!” The magical expelling of the fleas stands for exorcising evil. Sweepings are thrown away from the home. Moreover, fires are lit that everybody living in the house should jump over, facing the sunrise, in order to propitiate calamities and against all kinds of harms. To chase them far away, all go around the courtyard with bells and chants.
According to a legend, the first martenitza was made by Akhinora, Khan Asparukh’s wife. In the remote second half of the 7th century, Khan Asparukh had already crossed the Danube and had discovered for Bulgarians the lands near the Balkan. Akhinora waited long for her beloved. Finally, she attached to the foot of a swallow a red-and-white thread and let the little bird fly and deliver her wish of health and love.
White is the colour of purity, innocence, and joy. To Bulgarians, white is a sign of beauty. A beautiful person is white in folk songs (“white Rada”, “white Dimitar”). White is the South Wind, white is the Danube River. White are also the holiday clothes, the bride’s attire, the holiday loafs of bread. White is a sign of light and is often a substitute for it in literature. The righteous are wearing white, as well as angels.
Red is a colour of vitality, healthiness, amorous flame, warrior’s valiance and victories. Red is the light of the rising sun and of the sunset, of blood, of fire. Red is Eden’s apple. Red is the Holy Virgin’s mantle, as are those of kings and lords. In a traditional Bulgarian wedding ceremony, the bride’s veil is red. Red are the hot peppers, a symbol of the male principle. In magic, red is a defensive instrument, it shields off evil. The most powerful magic is the one of the red rooster. A red thread is tied to fruit trees or to a child’s wrist, in order to protect from evil, to bring health. Such is also its magical power in the martenitza.
In the Rhodope Mountains, martenitzas are made by using many colours; in the regions of Sofia and of Melnik, the basic colours are blue and red.
Blue is related to the sky and to the water, two of the universe’s four elements. It is considered a mark of divine eternity and, meanwhile, of nobility.
Green is a mark of fertility, health, revival, festivity. It receives this meaning by direct transfer of natural elements and features into the spiritual realm.
The filament of the martenitza is twisted mandatorily to the left. Often, other symbolic messages are also incorporated – snail shells for health and strength, garlic cloves for shielding from evil demons, beads against spells, or a coin for prosperity.
Divinations and auguries
The martenitza is for health and fertility. Young girls could also guess through it what kind of guy they are going to marry. When they spot the first swallow or stork, or the first blooming tree, they would put the martenitza under a rock. Then they would take a peek under the rock only when the sun turns again at autumn and winter, i.e., exactly half a year later. If there are ants sticking onto the martenitza, it is not a good sign – their fate would be linked to a poor man.
If they hang their martenitzas onto a blooming fruit tree, they would be rose-cheeked and healthy all along the year. If they throw their martenitzas into the stream, evil would flow out and everything will be running smoothly.
In the Rhodope region, the first days of March are called “counted days”, because a month of the year corresponds to each day: March to the first, April to the second and so on. Whatever the day is – good or bad–, such will be the respective month. If it is rainy on the first of March, this is a sign for family problems.
If anybody selects a March day for himself, it would augur what a year might he expect.
In some places, girls and lads go out early in the morning on the first of March with their eyes shut, bearing bread, silver or gold, and they hope to see a bird when they open their eyes, in order to be agile, content, and happy.
The Forty Martyrs or Mladentzi
Once this holiday was listed on March 22 in our calendar, and it is very similar to the people’s spring holiday Blagovetz, on March 25. It has the same important task: heralding and meeting the spring.
On March 9, those bearing the names of Mladen and Mladenka are bound to have their celebration, as well as anybody who wishes to celebrate but has no specific name day in the calendar. Even if the names of the forty soldiers from Sevastia who were slaughtered for their faith were to be found in religious books, who today might know them by heart? Thus, anybody could calmly accept the day as his holiday, and offer a round for his name.
The ninth of March is a holiday of youth, beauty, and love. This is why it is a good occasion to pay a visit to the newlywed who united their lives during the year and to bring them presents. Do plant a flower on this day – it will grow foliage and blossom gorgeously. A young girl who decorates herself with it would enchant young and old alike with its perfume. It is believed that at the eve of this holiday, every tree or other plant is bending its top to kiss its roots, and starts growing from that moment on.