No matter the weather or the times, for us, March, the month of the vernal equinox and the new agrarian year, the third month of the year, by its folk name,”Martisor”, appears as the joy of child who, after a long wait, has finally received his long wanted toy. Romanians have a special, original way to welcome the first day of spring, offering and receiving “martisoare”, an old, millenial tradition that people still follow, despite the wave of foreign holidays who are not related in any way with Romanian tradition, spirituality and culture.
Legend says that the first “martisor” was spun by Baba Dochia, daughter of Decebal, while she climbed the mountain, with the sheep.
The “martisor”, made of two twisted wool or silk strings (black and white, and later red and white) are, in fact, the union of the opposites: summer – winter, hot – cold, light – dark.
Generally, women and girls receive the “martisor” and wear it during March, as a sign of spring’s arrival. In Moldavia, however, the tradition is for girls to give the “martisor” to the boys. Early spring flowers are often offered alongside the “martisor”, the most representative being the snowdrop.
The archaeologists have discovered thousands of years old objects that can be considered “martisoare”. They are shaped as small river rocks painted in red and white, put on a string, to be worn at the neck. The two colors are open to interpretations: red can symbolize the vitality of the woman and white – the wisdom of the man. Thus, the string of the “martisor” indicate the inseparable intertwining of the two principles.
The signification of the red and white threads that are braided into a cord onto which a small object is tied is also mentioned in some legends. For example, it is said that the Sun had come down on earth in the form of a beautiful girl and it was taken prisoner by a dragon. In order to set it free a strong man fought the dragon, as his blood poured into the snow. The Sun went back up in the sky and, in the places where the snow melted, snowdrops – spring messengers – rose.
The old Romanian beliefs give the “martisor” special powers. The “martisor” is like a talisman. It brings luck. It protects from evil forces. It prevents illness in the months following March. It keeps the evil eye away. It protects against the blinding light of the sun. At the same time, if you wear the “martisor” on your wrist, tie it in a knot. The knot protects you from evil during the time when you wear the “martisor” string. Also, the braids keep away misfortune and unfavorable circumstances.
Between 1-9 March the “Babe” are chosen to see how your days will be in that particular year. Old legends tell us that during these days, Baba Dochia spins and take off her nine sheepskin coats, one by one, in each of the nine days. In Ardeal, the women mustn’t use the spinning wheel during these days in order not to bring the anger and curses of Baba Dochia upon them.
In certain areas in Bucovina or Moldavia, a nice custom is still kept to this day: the women must wear gold or silver coins at their neck, tied with a red and white string. A long time ago, however, this coin had to be worn for 12 days, after which it was used to buy a slice of beautiful, sweet, white cheese. This way, the girl who wore that coin as a “martisor” would be sweet and beautiful all year long. At the same time, her skin remained bright and smooth for a long time.
Even today, in some areas of the country, it is said that mothers must tie a silver coin at their child’s neck or wrist. The child who wears it will be like silver: clean and healthy, and away from colds. The mothers who tie the “martisor” on their child’s chest or wrist must be careful not to be seen by pregnant women. If so, the newborn will have a sign on his face…
It is not only the “martisor” that was given remarkable abilities. The gesture of offering it also carries sacredness and meanings. To offer a “martisor” with a good heart to a person you truly care about means, according to some old beliefs, to make the sun give you health, beauty, joy, energy, love. At the same time, men offering “martisoare” to women is in fact an urge to harmony, union and comity.