As Spring begins, everything comes back to life. To mark the beginning of a new cycle of life, Romanians have a special tradition, called Martisor.
The day of March 1, according to the old calendar, was considered the beginning of the New Year, the celebration of Spring’s arrival. Martisor is an over 8000 years old tradition, born in the lands where now Romania is. In the time of the Dacians (Romanian ancestors), spring symbols were made during winter and were worn starting with March 1st. Martisor were then white and red pebbles, strung on a string and worn around one’s neck. The red color, given by fire, blood and sun, was attributed to life, hence to women. White, on the other hand, conferred by the clarity of water, the white of the clouds, was specific to the wisdom of men. Besides, the cord of the Martisor expresses the inseparable interweaving of the two principle as a permanent movement of matter. It signifies the exchange of vital forces that give rise to life, the continuous cycle of nature.
The significance of Martisor remained the same over time: it’s a symbol of spring, of the returning to life. It brings optimism and faith. Back then, Martisor was attached to a rose or a blossoming tree, to bring luck, or was thrown in the direction from which wandering birds came, saying “Ia-mi negretele si da-mi albetele” (Take me the black and bring me the white” – meaning take away the surrow and everything negative and exchange it to happiness and good things).
The legend says that the Sun descended in a village, at the village dance, taking the shape of a lovely girl. A dragon watched her and abducted her from the crowd and trapped her in a dungeon. The world was so sad. Birds stopped singing, rivers stopped flowing and children stopped laughing. Nobody dared to confront the dragon. But one day, a brave young man decided to go save the Sun. Many people led him and gave them from their powers to help him overcome the dragon and release the sun.
The journey lasted three seasons: summer, autumn and winter. He found the dragon’s castle and they began fighting. They fought for days until the dragon was defeated. Feeble and wounded, the young man released the Sun. It rose in the sky, chearing up people. It revived nature, people have rejoiced, but the brave young man never got to see spring again. The hot blood from his wounds drained in the snow. While the snow was melting, white flowers were blooming, Snowdrops, the messengers of spring. Even the last drop of blood dripped in the pristine snow. He died. Since then, young people knit two tassels together: one white and one red. They offer them to the girls they love or to their loved ones. Red means love for all that is beautiful, reminiscent of the color of the brave man’s blood. White symbolizes the health and the purity of the snowdrop, the first flower of spring.
Martisor is worn on “the days of Old Dochia” [Zilele Babelor] that are between 1 to 9 March. In present times, the custom is to pick a day from this period and it’s said that depending on how that day will be, that’s how all your year will be. A sunny day predicts a good year and a gloomy one a bad year.
In some regions, Martisor is worn during the whole month of March, then attached to the branches of a fruit tree. It is believed this will bring wealth into people’s homes. They say that if someone makes a wish and hang Martisor on the tree, it will come true soon. In early April, in a large part of Romania and Moldova’s villages, trees are decorated with Martisors. In Moldova, the musical festival “Martisor” takes place every year, starting on March 1 until March 10.
In some counties of Romania, Martisor is worn only in the first two weeks of March. In Transylvanian cities (center Romania), Martisors are hanged on doors, windows, horns of domestic animals, because it is considered that it can frighten evil spirits. In Bihor county it is believed that if people wash their face with rainwater fallen on March 1, they will become more beautiful and healthy. In Banat, girls wash with snow so they will be loved. In Dobrogea, Martisors are worn until the arrival of cranes, then thrown in the air so that their happiness will be great and have wings. In Moldova, on March 1 girls give Martisor to boys and they give them Martisors back on March 8 (this differs slightly from the rest of the country). The Festival of Martisor can be found in the Balkans at the Aromanians and Megleno-Romanians, as well at the Bulgarians who call it Marten/ Martenitsa (Мартеница) and also in Macedonia and Albania.
Martisor can be basically any good-luck token that has attached the red-white martisor string. Most commonly used are the four-leaf-clover, the chimney sweeper, horse shoe and ladybug. Also, traditional models are ones made out of dry flowers casted in amber or small metal broches.
In the last years though, the trend has changed a bit and there are many who prefer wearing the bracelet Martisor (it’s like a friendship bracelet) – such as the ones below, as there are more and more people who like and do handmade designs.
Apart from these rather traditional Martisor, you can gift/receive a martisor in so many other forms, from jewelry or scarfs to flowers that have attached one red-white string. One wears a Martisor either pinned on its tshirt/coat etc or tied around the wrist.
Either way you like to wear it and whatever model you prefer, we hope it would work it’s ‘magic’ and bring you a happy prosperous year