This morning when I got to my office, my colleague Violina from Bulgaria came up to me and gave me a red and white yarn woven bracelet and greeted me, “Happy Baba Marta Day!”
For those not aware, like myself up to this morning, today is Grandmother March Day (or Grandma Marta). This is the day when martenitsi (martenitsa is singular, мартеница) are exchanged in anticipation of spring, and worn pinned on the clothing or tied on the wrist. They are in the form of yarn tassels, male and female yarn dolls known as Pizho and Penda, or yarn bracelets, but always red and white. They are worn until the first sighting of a stork (a harbinger of spring) or, more commonly nowadays, a budding tree. Then the martenitsa is attached to the branches. Romanians have a similar holiday known as martisor.
The red and white woven threads symbolize the wish for good health. They are the heralds of the coming of spring in Bulgaria and life in general. While white as a color symbolizes purity, red is a symbol of life and passion, thus some ethnologists have proposed that, in its very origins, the custom might have reminded people of the constant cycle of life and death, the balance of good and evil, and of the sorrow and happiness in human life.