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Welcoming Spring the Balkan Way: Mărțișor and Baba Marta

In countries like Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova, charm bracelets made of red and white strings symbolize the end of winter.

The string bracelet is worn throughout March and is believed to bring health and good fortune to its user.

While Romanians call it Martisor (Little March), Bulgarians named the holiday after Baba Marta (Grandma March), a feisty old lady who chases away the cold February.

But is there a difference between Martisor and Baba Marta?

The legend of Martisor

Some say Martisor originated in ancient Rome, where the new year started in March. Yet, Romanian mythology tells a different story.

Legend has it that the sun, embodied by a beautiful maiden, was kidnapped by a dragon.

Darkness fell upon the earth, crops stopped growing and birds ceased their singing. Everything remained as such until a brave young man decided to try his hand at freeing the lady.

His journey lasted from summer to winter until he finally reached the castle. Once there, the young man defeated the dragon at a jousting match, freeing the sun who returned to the sky.

Unfortunately for the man, he was wounded and bled out on the snow. However, snowdrops blossomed in his stead.

To honor the man, the Martisor strings are red to represent his bravery and love and white for the color of the snowdrops.

In the present day, the red and white string symbolizes spring and winter respectively.

The legend of Baba Marta

In Bulgarian folklore, the months of the year are like characters in a story.

Baba Marta is the embodiment of the month of March, and she appears as either the sister or wife of January or February.

The idea is that Marta doesn’t like her drunken husband and comes to chase away the cold.

Kids think of her as a charming old lady who opens the gates of spring, handing out the bracelets, called a martenitsa.

A traditional martenitsa is usually composed of a string and two small dolls made of thread, a girl and a boy. The male doll is called Pizho and is covered mostly in white string, while the female doll Penda wears a skirt made of red string.

For Bulgarians, red represents life and passion and white symbolizes purity. The colors also play on the imagery of the sun and the snow and recall popular dichotomies like good versus evil.

Present-day practices

Tradition states that once the bracelet finds a wrist, it must stay there until the wearer spots a blossom, a swallow or a stork—key indicators of spring’s arrival. Alternatively, the user can wait twelve days or until the end of March.

Once the time has elapsed or the bird or flower is spotted, the string must be tied to the flower or a tree branch.

At Ria, we also join in on the festivities. For example, with more than 865,000 Romanians living in Spain, it is safe to say many of our clients and agents there celebrate Martisor. To honor their tradition, we give out traditional bracelets on March 1st.

And to you, our readers, we wish you a prosperous spring.

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