Today is “Baba Marta Day”. In Bulgaria the 1st of March marks a holiday that welcomes the upcoming spring. “Baba Marta” translates to “Grandma March”, the mythical character who brings the end of the bitter cold winter!
On this day people exchange “Martenitsi”. These are red and white coloured bands or figurines that symbolise health and happiness. The white initially represented human nature and strength, whilst the red showed health and the woman’s nature.
The most traditional martenitsa consists of two small dolls (male and female) and are called “Pizho and Penda” (Пижо и Пенда). Martenitsi come in many other shapes and sizes and people wear them as lucky charms.
The tradition is to wear your martenitsa until you see some signs of spring: blossoming trees or birds like storks and swallows. Some people then tie their martenitsa to a tree – so next time when walking through a park, if you see red and white yarn bracelets hanging on a branch, you know the mystery behind it! It was also believed that people placed them under a rock. They would then come back nine days later to see if there had been any ants; if there were the year would bring lots of sheep. Some people also chose to throw them into the river and let them flow away, representing the troubles of life leaving.
Thanks to Nikolay, who made us all martenitsi to wear today! Let’s see how many of our wishes come true…
Bonus fact: “Mărţişor” is a Romanian holiday that is similar to “Baba Marta”. It’s also believed in Romania that wearing the red and white bands leads to a prosperous and healthy year. The threads are hung somewhere outside the house like a gate to protect against evil spirits. Today the threads are still bought by people for their friends and family to show admiration.
Happy Baba Marta!
Before you go on holiday, or on a business trip abroad, it’s a great idea to learn a little of the local language. But getting along with people is about much more than just the words you say. There are other rules too, so here are our top tips to avoid misunderstandings abroad.
1. Be very careful when exchanging business cards in Japan: they aren’t just cards, but representations of the giver and should be handled with some ceremony. NEVER write on a business card or put it in your back pocket, as this is considered disrespectful.
2. Don’t talk about work over dinner in New Zealand, even if you’re having a meal with your colleagues. It’s fine to talk business over lunch, though.
3. In Muslim countries it’s considered an insult if you show the soles of your feet, so watch how you sit.
4. If you’re in Hungary and you’ve been told your meeting is at ‘fél négy’ (‘half four’), don’t turn up at 4:30 – ‘fél négy’ actually means half an hour TO four, so you’ll need to be there at half past three.
5. On the other hand, if you’ve been invited to a gathering in France, always aim to arrive 15-30 minutes late, to allow the host time to get ready.
6. Making a circle with your forefinger and thumb as another way of saying ‘OK’ is seen as an extremely offensive gesture in Brazil. As is the ‘thumbs up’ gesture in Iran, and showing your palm in Greece. It might be better to just avoid hand gestures altogether…
7. In Germany, not making eye contact when you clink glasses is considered very rude. It also, apparently, means you’ll have seven years’ bad luck in the bedroom. So even if you’re not worried about being thought bad-mannered, it might be worth making the effort. Just in case.
8. In Bulgaria, nodding your head means no, and shaking your head means yes, which is the opposite of what most of us are used to. This is worth remembering or you could get yourself into all kinds of trouble.
9. It’s been illegal to bring chewing gum into Singapore since 2004, because of the damage being caused to public buildings and facilities by people leaving their gum behind. You can also be fined for not flushing a public toilet.
10. In Russia, if you’re giving someone flowers, make sure you give them an odd number. Even numbers are for funerals.
11. It’s important to show respect to your elders in Asia, so don’t call them by their name; instead use ‘Auntie’ or ‘Uncle’, even if you don’t know them.
12. When eating a meal in Spain, you’ll be expected to clear your plate, and leaving some food is seen as rude. In Russia, on the other hand, you’re expected to leave a little as a sign that your host has provided enough to fill you up. And in China, a polite belch when you finish eating is considered a compliment to the chef, although it’s frowned upon in many other countries.
13. Never say anything disrespectful about the king in Thailand, as this could land you in prison for several years.
14. Make sure you’re appropriately dressed before going to church in Italy. This means your shoulders, knees and midriff should all be covered, or you won’t be allowed in.
15. In Malawi, it’s common for people of the same sex to hold hands; this is a sign of close friendship, so don’t worry if someone tries to take your hand. It’s a compliment. Men and women holding hands is rare, though, and may be frowned upon.
As always, if anyone has any others, we’d love to hear from you!