Bulgarians celebrate a very unique tradition of welcoming in "Granny March," or Baba Marta, on March 1st with the presentation of martenitsa to each other. These little red and white bracelets, or sometimes figurines, are meant to symbolize purity (white) and vitality (red), but also herald in the spring, which is said to begin in March. Baba Marta is known to be a grouchy old lady with mood swings, which is, apparently, analogous to the weather at this time of year in Bulgaria. While I don't appreciate the association, I have to say the bit about the weather is right on, so far; we've had temps in the 50's followed by another 2 inches of snow in the last week. Things are looking up, though.
Back to the symbolism for a minute though, which seems to be open to interpretation. Some of my students tell me that the martenitsa also represent the legend of a famous Bulgarian, Khan Asparuh, who sent a message tied to the leg of a pigeon (or a falcon) to his wife, to signal that he was ok; the string was tied too tight, and the red blood on the white string symbolizes this moment in national lore. It may also symbolize the rosy cheek of a maiden against the backdrop of late-winter snow. Or it may be that it was the blood of Khan Asparuh's pigeon/falcon, but because someone shot it. (That student may have gotten some details mixed up.)
Here are some of the martneitsa I received from my students:
Regardless of the symbolism, the end result is that students and adults alike arrive at school laden with bundles of these martenitsa, and they bestow them upon each other and their teachers while reciting a list of deeply-felt wishes for health, long life, every-dream-coming-true, many days of sunshine, etc. It's an unequivocally happy day with no real burdens attached: the bracelets are either homemade or can be bought at little cost, and everyone seems moved by the spirit of generosity and well-wishing. It's also cool to think that, anywhere I go in the world, I might see one of these martenitsi and know that it's probably a Bulgarian--or maybe a Macedonian or other neighbor--as the tradition is unique to this part of the world.
So, Happy Baba Marta, wherever you are, and may she bring us all a dose of spring as soon as possible!