Have you even seen one of these red and white threads tied to a tree? I find them occasionally in London tied discretely to branches in bushy parts of low-hanging boughs. I probably only spot them because I spend so much time looking to take photographs. The one above is on a tree in Budapest.
I have a Bulgarian friend who introduced me to the interesting and, as far as I can tell, almost exclusively Bulgarian custom of the martenitsa. The origin of the ritual seems to have a number of different explanations but the outline of the custom is pretty standard.
On the 1st March, deemed the beginning of spring, Bulgarians adorn themselves with amulets made of red and white thread – a martenitsa.
There is an ancient saying that “If you don’t wear your martenitsa, Baba Marta will bring evil things to you”. The mythical character of Baba Marta personifies the spring, the sun that can easily burn the fair skin of people’s faces.
According to the national belief Baba Marta is an old lady. She is an old lady and she is limp. That’s why she carries an iron stick to learn on. The national beliefes define the temperament of Baba Marta as very unstable. When she was smiling the sun was shining; when she was mad st somebody cold weather was firming the ground. The majority of the rituals aim to make her happy and merciful…
Baba Marta was very favorable towards the people that wear martenitsa. Usually they were made from wool, silk and cotton yarn by women. The basic colors used were red and white. The threads are woven together. Traditional martenitsa can include other elements such as silver coins, beads, garlic, snail’s shells, horse’s tail hairs, etc. Together they formed an amulet.
People give martenitsi to family and friends – it’s particularly important that young children have them and even farm animals sometimes wear them – but only for a limited length of time:
Usually the end of the period is connected with the first signs of the coming spring – blossomed trees, meeting of the first spring birds like storks, swallows or cranes. Then people remove their martenitsa and tie them to a tree…
When the martenitsa is taken off according to all rituals its special spiritual purposes are over. This marks an important transition – the end of the winter and a tansfer to positive changes.
The tree is such a powerful symbol of spring, renewal and fertility. But also at this time of year a symbol of the cycle of birth and death. I like the juxtaposition of the martenitsa still tied to this branch as the leaves turn and close the circle.
Don’t forget – only two weeks to go before entries close for this month’s Festival of the Trees. If you have a link to submit please send a mail to festival [dot] trees [at] gmail [dot] com.