Photo: Mirela (center with maroon vest) and friends show off their Martenitsa bracelets.
This piece was adapted from an article originally published on American Councils' Southeast Europe website on March 3, 2017.
By Mirela Minkova, YES 2016-2017, Bulgaria, hosted by American Councils for International Education in Edwardsville, IL
Dear American Councils,
Thank you for the great opportunity that you have given me – to be an exchange student. Since I got the chance to become an ambassador of my country, I have been determined to represent it in the best way that I can.
Today I felt extremely lucky to have the chance to share my culture with my American friends and my host family. March 1st is one of the most important Bulgarian holidays – Baba Marta (Grandma March). On this holiday we celebrate the coming of spring and the new beginning. We make a small ornament, called Martenitsa (made of white and red yarn)(photo on right), and we give it to friends and family as a gift, which will bring us health, luck, and prosperity.
I was more than happy to make bracelets and necklaces out of white and red yarns, and to teach my friends and family how to make them as well. Everyone from my school and community loved the tradition, and they were really interested. Bulgarians wear these ornaments throughout the entire month of March and after we take them off, we tie them to branches of blossoming trees. I was surprised and pleased to hear that my American friends and family were more than willing to do this tradition with me. They are excited to wear the bracelets throughout the entire month. Then we all will find a beautiful tree to tie the Martenitsa on. They were thankful that I shared my culture, and they wanted to know more about Bulgarian customs. I will never forget the feeling when I saw how people were engaged, and were asking questions, memorizing each word that I said about the Baba Marta holiday. Everyone was excited to wear their Martenitsa, and they also took pictures and explained the traditions to other friends and family members.
I felt proud of myself for succeeding in teaching so many people, and having the chance to share one of the symbols of my country. I feel great that I know how all my friends will remember Bulgaria and me, with the beautiful red and white bracelets that we made together.