Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Culture Share: Personification of Spring in Bulgarian Culture by Harry Markov

This post is part of The Writer's International Culture Share, in which writers discuss their personal experience with world cultures: Harry Markov discusses how spring, and the month of march, are personified in Bulgarian culture.

Personification of Spring in Bulgarian Culture

It's March, the most bipolar month in Bulgaria [to be honest December surpassed it with days, I had to walk with short sleeves OUTSIDE]. It's the month that catches the death of winter and the birth of spring, so from a meteorological standpoint, March can be as cold as January, as rainy as February and as mildly tempered as April.

Baba Marta in her sunny mood

Of course, such erratic weather patterns panicked did a lot to panic Bulgarians back in the time, to the point that we personified March as Baba Marta [or Grandma March for the curious ones] and March is a time, when we honor Baba Marta in hopes for good weather. In olden times, shepherds would freeze up in the mountains with their flocks, because the sunny weather would easily turn to a snowstorm and the people along with the animals would be trapped there. Naturally, no one had the desire to lose their loved ones as well as their livestock to bad weather and this naturally led to the conception of Baba Marta and the month-long series of rituals that are performed in her name. Baba Marta is not only the embodiment of March, but also the very personification of spring, which for Bulgaria is a tough and unpredictable season. Often cold and with rain showers while it's sunny outside.

In this post, I will touch upon the mythological reasoning as to why Baba Marta suffers from her violent mood swings. The most popular belief is that Baba Marta has two brothers: January and February [they are named Golyam Sechko and Maluk Sechko, which I fail to translate], who have anger management issue, hence why it's cold during these months. Basically, both brothers always do something to displease their sister, either drink all the wine or leave their house in an utter mess. This angers Baba Marta, who as their sister is depicted as an old crone with a cane, and snow covers the land. Otherwise, when not provoked, Baba Marta is happy and loving, thus prompting the sun to shine.

Baba Marta during a fit

Sometimes, Baba Marta's said to be the brothers' bride [yes, there's polygamy at work here] and I actually know some inappropriate jokes about why she is always throwing fits. They involve cold feet and ill-endowed spouses.

It's interesting to note that while nowadays March and spring are female in Bulgarian folklore, once Baba Marta was actually a man, who had two wives. One was loving and beautiful, while the other is described as always scowling and cold. When March looked at the first, the sun shone and the weather cleared. When he looked at the other, winter would creep back in. However, it's a rather unpopular version.

The patriarchal structure of Bulgarian society reinforced the idea that March is a female and that her mood swings are unrelated to anything. Today, the tale of Baba Marta and her brothers or spouses, while known, is not central as to why Baba Marta angers as easily as she does. It's just accepted that she is as easy to laugh as she is to cry. Anything can anger her. If she sees old men on the streets, she might anger. Seeing children and young women might better her mood.

With this ends the mythological roots of Baba Marta and a very brief 'psychological' profile of her emotional instability.

Harry Markov lives in Varna, Bulgaria on the shores of the Black Sea. This post originally appeared at his blog, linked above.

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