Arriving in Bulgaria during March means witnessing countless wrists covered with the red and white bands of Martenitsa. Worn and exchanged beginning the first of March on the holiday of “Baba Marta” (Grandmother March), these bands are believed to bring health and fortune in the coming spring. The bands are worn by men in business suits, children playing in parks…just about every class and demographic of the population you can imagine.
Not limited to class, sex, or age – Martenitsa isn’t just limited to limbs either. The red and white combinations can be found on the side of buildings, homes, and in trees like the one above, somewhere along the way up Vitosha Mountain.
Martenitsa is one of the first things I noticed in Sofia, so much so that my curiosity – and someone kind enough to indulge it – brought me one for good luck the day after I first inquired about it. Meant to be given and received, the typical Martenitsa is worn until one sees a stork, or a budding tree – although these interpretations vary as they often do with ancient traditions. Whether it’s a stork, blossoming tree, or simply the end of the month, Martenitsas are tied to the nearest tree or bush given the occasion. Or, for travelers, kept in their backpacks for good luck as needed.