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March 1 is a feast day Bulgarians love very much. It marks the coming of spring, a day on which friends and relatives exchange martenitsas – traditional amulets made of intertwined white and red thread. On this day young and old adorn their somber winter clothes with flashes of colour – the martenitsas which usher in the hope of health and happiness. Martenitsas are also a token of reverence for Granny Marta – an ancient pagan figure that has lost none of its fascination to this day. She is traditionally seen as a symbol of femininity because of her mood changes but also because she has the power to breathe life back into nature and awaken it from a deep sleep.
Few people nowadays realize that besides a gift to be exchanged with their loved ones or a pretty addition to their attire, martenitsas are a symbol imbued with an ancient meaning and magical powers. March 1 is seen as the borderline between winter and spring and a symbolical transition from death to life, from barrenness to fertility and birth. That is why this is a time deemed dangerous but at the same time blessed, a time for incantations for health, prosperity, love and marriage. That is why there are two sides to the symbolism of the martenitsa – it wards off evil eyes and trouble but also brings health, power and fertility. Our ancestors used to make it out of wool or cotton in a classical combination of red and white. But there are other combinations as well: blue and white (usually for a boy) or blue and red (typical of