Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Martenitsa (мартеница)

A tradition in Bulgaria, where most of the museum's aircraft come from, is the exchange of Martenitsi around the 1st of March.

These are bracelets or dolls made out of red and white yarn that are given to friends and relatives (think of the exchange of Valentines that kids go through in grade school) and then worn until the first signs of spring are seen, such as a stork or a budding plant. Upon seeing such a sign, the tradition is to remove the Martenitsa and hang it on the nearest tree for luck. It's quite a charming sight to see a tree covered in them.

The name of the holiday is "Baba Marta" in Bulgarian, or "Grandma March". The signs of spring are an indication that the Grandma's mood is going to change quickly and the weather will soon improve.

I had heard of the Romanian "Mărţişor" tradition (which is similar but not identical) and was surprised to see Bulgarians wearing the red and white yarn on my trip there in 2006. I asked the lady at the desk of our hotel about her bracelet and she was both quick to give it to me and insistent that I take it. One never buys or makes a Martenitsa for oneself, so I was very happy to be included in a tradition that the Bulgarians are so proud of.

Given the volume of pine cones and other flora and fauna that arrive at the Museum in shipping containers from Bulgaria, we sometimes wonder if years from now some botanist is going to be puzzled by how a stand of trees, normally only found in Bulgaria, sprung up in Lancaster, Texas. I suppose they'd be even more surprised to find red and white yarn bracelets hanging from them. :-)