The Magic of the Month of March for
Bulgaria, Spring and Women

By Koozma J. Tarasoff — March 8, 2007
Bulgarians call the month of March ‘Granny Marta’ as the celebration for the beginning of spring. When the sun shines, Granny Marta smiles. When it is cold and stormy, Granny Marta is angry. For Bulgarians, the 1st of March is a very special day. On that day they give each other small amulets called martenitsa and wish each other Chestita Baba Marta.

The martenitsa is a hand-made gift of red and white cotton symbolizing spring and expresses the wish of good health portrayed by a white face and red cheeks all year round. People wear their martenitsas pinned on the clothes until the day they first see a stork, a swallow in the sky or a tree in blossom. Then they can take it off and hang it on a sprig of blossoming tree (believing that it will bring a fertile year). This pagan tradition survives to the present day in the form of health and renewal in society.

Being married to a Bulgarian woman, Kristina, it is natural that I should be gifted with a nice martinitsa and greeted with words of well wishes. I am honoured to celebrate the health-giving benefits of March.

Furthermore, March 3rd 1878 is a remarkable day in Bulgarian history. On that day the St. Stefano Treaty climaxed many centuries-long dreams of the Bulgarian people gaining independent status and becoming part of the political map of Europe. Bulgaria was liberated from 500 years of Turkish rule. 

In Ottawa, on March 3rd over 400 people came out to the City Hall to celebrate the Bulgarian National Day. Tribute was given to thousands of known and unknown heroes — Bulgarian, Russian, Rumanian, Finish, Serbian and Polish who gave their lives for the liberation of Bulgaria. 

In retrospect, it is remarkable that there is a Doukhobor connection to this liberation. Doukhobor leader Lukeria Kalmykova of Bogdanovka in the Caucasus engaged hundreds of wagons with drivers to transport supplies for the Russian troops in the Russo-Turkish war.  For this Lukeria was compensated generously, but her members criticized the wisdom of contributing to the war effort. As she sent off the men, she instructed them not to take the gun. In the end, not one Doukhobor was killed during the year-long effort. It was later learned that if Lukeria did not agree to the demand of the Tsarist authorities, the Doukhobors could well have been severely persecuted.
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Granny Marta martenitsa

At the end of the battle, the Russian army approached the strategic port of  Istanbul (Constantinople). However, Britain and Austria-Hungary feared the establishment of Greater Bulgaria would harm their interests. This prompted the Great Powers to force a revision of the St. Stefano treaty through the Treaty of Berlin on July 1, 1878. Bulgaria’s territory was reduced by one-half and a new Balkan relationship was institutionalized. Bulgarian young people in Ottawa recalled this history and wondered how Bulgaria would have developed differently if outsiders did not interfere.

Finally, the International Women’s Day, on March 8th, is a reminder to all of us of the long road that women have taken to achieve equal rights with men. Their pioneering efforts are a tribute to the human spirit.

With the coming of astronomical spring later in March, let’s enjoy its health-giving and renewal benefits. Let us open up our curtains and allow sunshine and fresh air to come in. As we leave winter behind, we have the opportunity to nurture new growth and learning.  Hopefully we will learn the wisdom of the ages — the need to rededicate our efforts to treat others with dignity and respect as we actively work to take away the conditions that lead to war.
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