1 March, Martisor – Tradition and Symbolism in Romania

Martie - Martisor - red and white string tied to snowdrops

They blamed it on the March wind, curious and playful, throwing off the girls’ scarfs so tightly wrapped all winter long, deceitful in its scented games, innocent in appearance, a trickster of a djinn. The red mark left on the maidens’ cheeks by the spring wind was a sure tell-tale. Some older women got it too. And there was not cure, known or unknown.

What was there to do? No one liked a blotchy face when the birds sang again of life and love and the flowers bloomed and your heart went mad with joy once more.
Someone must have gotten the idea from an old tale or a word lost in a whisper, over the fire.

Some legends say that the red-white thread was first spun by Old Dokia, Baba Dochia, as she took her sheep grazing up the mountain.

1 March Martie Martisor Romania
Nicolae Grigorescu, Peasant Woman

But who really cares where a cure originated when it works? It started in the valley, I believe, and it spread like gossip to the forest and up the mountains and even to the land over the forest and even further away…

And girls and older women together began to tie a red silky string around their neck. Thin enough to go unnoticed, yet strong to do the trick. To protect their smooth, white skin freshly sprung from a long winter against the March breeze, called the martisor.
And it worked.

And soon boys used it too. Girls and boys were gifted with this special thread on the 1st of March, before the sun showed its face up on the sky.
Soon they started to wear where it showed . For it had a red thread too, to protect their milky skin and sparkly eyes against the evil-eye.

1 March Martie Martisor Romania
1 March Martie Martisor Romania

The two threads twisted together, red and white or red and black, symbolized the unity of opposing forces: summer-winter, heat-cold, fertility-barrenness, light-dark.

Or so the story of the 1st of March, Martisor, says.

They were wearing it, maiden and wives, lasses and ladies, boys too, pinned to their chest, above the heart or around their wrists. A thread of white and red twisted together and tied in a bow. They would wear it from the 1st of March till the day they knew that Spring had won its battle against Winter: when the cuckoo sang again and the cherries bloomed, when the storks returned to their old nests and the swallows showed their fine tails in spirited flight again. When the snowdrops peaked from underneath the snow.

Then… they would tie the Martisor thread to a white rose or a blossomed tree, bearer of fruit, for good luck. The brave one would even throw it towards the directions where the migrating birds arrived from, whispering: “take my dark days and bring me bright ones.”

Later, some attached a silver coin to the silky white-red thread as a gift. Those who could afford such. The coin symbolized the sun and the Martisor became a symbol of light and of fire.
With the silver coin they would buy red wine, bread and fresh, soft, white cheese so that the girls who wore the silky thread would keep their ivory skin and have beautiful cheeks as red as wine.

1 March Martie Martisor Romania
1 March Martie Martisor and a silver coin – Romania

Why the 1st of March? 1 Martie?

You see, the Geto-Dacian tribes who inhabited during the 4th century BC the territory we now today as Romania, celebrated the New Year on the 1st of March. Their calendar had only two seasons, winter and summer. The Martisor was therefore offered for good luck on the first day of the New Year, together with heartfelt wishes for health, happiness and love.

As are my wishes to you…
La Multi Ani de Martisor!

PS. Here is my childhood collection of “Martisoare”. In Romania, we would offer them to friends on the 1st of March. Not all were made of glass. They can be fashioned out of anything.

Glass collection of Martisoare: dogs, squirrels, chimney sweep, penguins, parrots, swallow, cat, rooster, bird, swan, geese
My priceless glass collection of Martisoare
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Valentine’s Day in Romanian Folklore: Dragobete, Ziua Indragostitilor

valentine's day folklore dragobete

Romanian folklore is a rich source of fairy-tales and traditions filled with wisdom and symbolism and bearing witness to a millennial culture, such as Dragobete, the Romanian version of Valentine’s Day, Ziua Indragostitilor and celebrated not on 14 February, but on 24 February.

Dragobete, origin and signification

A few theories explain the origin of this celebration and the etymology of its name. Some say it derives from “dragubete”=”dragu” (meaning dear, beloved in Romanian) + “-bete” (a Slavonic suffix meaning gathering).
Some say it coincides with the Christian celebration of The First Finding of the Honorable Head of Prophet John the Baptist, named in Slavonic Glavo-Obretenia and adopted during the Middle Ages by Romanians under various names, such as Bragobete, later Dragobete. Some see in Dragobete an old Dacian tradition taking place during this specific time of the year, beginning of spring, by using the connection with two Dacian words: ‘trago” (tap, goat) and “pede” (picioare, feet). And the Dacians inherited their legends from the Thracians, Indo-European tribes mentioned as far back as the legends of Iliad and Odyssey, 600 -800 years before the times of Saint Valentine.

valentine's day folklore dragobete

Perhaps the best connection with Valentine’s Day is by associating Dragobete with a character from Romanian mythology, patron of love and good cheer. He was the son of Baba Dochia, a figure that marks the return of spring, described as a demigod with special powers, young and good looking, and kind hearted. And with spring comes the renewal of nature and love. This explains why Dragobete is celebrated on this day, as 24 February was considered the beginning of the new agricultural season.

Based on the popular tradition surrounding this specific date in Romania, 24 February, birds and animals all find their mates and build nests, as it is a celebration of fertility and nature’s rebirth. I is said that if girls and boys enjoy a day of jokes and fun together then they will enjoy of a year full of love, for sure. For Dragobete protects love and those who share it on this day. 

Dragobete is also a symbol for spring and new beginning, for changing of seasons from winter that we leave behind, to spring, ahead of us, a change from long night to shorter ones and longer days, filled with sunshine.

Dragobete, Valentine's Day - photo by Adolph Chevalier
Photo by Adolph Chevalier

Romanian folklore presents Dragobete as a handsome young man with hair as black as ebony and eyes as green as the spring leaves, who would play his whistle and make the girls fall for him. He is the one responsible for teaching humankind how to love. As a reward, Virgin Mary turned him into a plant, Navalnic, Impetuous or hart’s-tongue fern. Other folk tales speak of Dragobete as teasing Virgin Mary and making her lose her path in the forest, thus she changed him into the same plant.

Up to today, this plant is said to bring young maidens good luck in love if they wear it tucked in their bosom in a silk bag. Although modern times swapped the plant for a banknote. 

Popular tradition speaks of young girls and boys meeting outside the village church and heading for the woods to gather spring flowers. If raspberry flowers were in sight, it was a good sign. They were soon picked while the girls would sing:

“Flower of raspberry,
 Born in February,
 Make the whole world like me
 And take away all that’s beastly”

Romanian country song for Dragobete

Afterwards, the boys and girls light up fires and sit around and talk. At noon, the girls sprint for the village, each followed by a boy the boy who liked her the most. If the boy catches the girl and if she also likes him, they kiss in front of everybody, thus becoming engaged for one year, on Dragobete, by showing their attachment for each other in front of everybody.

I don’t know what happens if two boys chase a girl. But all young adults were urged to take part in this ceremony for, as tradition also says, participating in Dragobete will protect you from any illness during the coming year. I would say enough for any elderly villager… 

valentine's day folklore dragobete - valentine's day folklore dragobete - photo by Adolph Chevalier
Moldavia, Romania. Photo by Adolph Chevalier

Want to have luck in love? Here’s what you should do on Dragobete, on 24 February

Wash your hair with snow. Gather fresh, unspoiled snow, melt it and wash your hair and your face to stay beautiful all year round and for the boys to notice you first. The Dragobete snow is said to be perfect for love charms.

Kiss your loved one on Dragobete or at least make sure you get to see the one you fancy and you two will be together forever or at least you will increase your chances of ending up together.

Be merry and joyful on Dragobete day and you will stay like this the entire year.

In some parts of Romania the common belief says that stepping on your partner’s foot on Dragobete will establish your dominance in the relationship. At least during the year ahead.

You can pick or buy crocuses, violets or snowdrops to hang them above the icons in your home – it will keep you young as well as chase away any bad thoughts or envy held against you. These flowers, once dry, can be thrown on a moving water on 24 June, on Sanziene Day (or Dragaica, a night when all magic is possible), to attract all bad luck down the river with them.

Clean your house on Dragobete day for a fruitful year and to guarantee your husband’s love. But, if you are a boy don’t dig or work the ground or Dragobete might punish you because you don’t have fun.

Boys and all men should not tease the girls or be nasty towards them on Dragobete, or they will set themselves for an unlucky spring. 

Plant basil so it will grow until Saint George, the day after Easter, when it’s the perfect time to replant it in the garden. The basil planted on Dragobete is perfect for spells, charms, and cures, for it is said it hold special powers. Besides, the Dragobete basil is the one girls can use in various rituals throughput the year to help them foresee their chosen one.

Try to spot a hoopoe on Dragobete and you will have good luck all year. But if you spot a pair of birds, you will have good luck in love. 

If you drink cherry tea on Dragobete you will know love all year round.

valentine's day folklore dragobete - Dragobete, folklore, Romania, tradition dance. photo by Adolph Chevalier
Romanian traditions on Dragobete – folk dance. Photo by Adolph Chevalier

A Dragobete spell from Ardeal region of Romania:

Old women would go in the forest to pick hart’s-tongue fern. Before they pull it from the ground they whisper the name of the girl they collect for and drop honey, flour and some sugar at the plant’s root. Picked only this way can the fern be used for magic spells that are supposed to make a certain boy love the girl it was picked for. 

What you should NOT do on Dragobete, on 24February, to avoid any bad luck

Because it is a celebration of love and rebirth, don’t buy or sacrifice any animals on this day.

Don’t sew, wash or iron, but you can clean your home.

What makes Dragobete or Valentine’s day so special ,lasting the test of time?

Is it the nostalgic feeling all tradition carries, the romance that puts a spring in our step, no matter how much we deny its importance during the rest of the year?

Or is it simpler then that. It is the need for hope and the feeling of belonging, to know that our existence carries some sort of meaning for someone else? Someone we care for too.

How many Saint Valentine are there?

The Saint Valentine we all know so well was a 3rd century Roman saint venerated by Catholic Church, Anglican Communion, and Lutheran Church on the 14th of February.

Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Saint Valentin, Bishop of Umbria, on the 30th of July. Saint Valentine of Umbria was born in 175 AD in Interamna (today Terni, in Umbria Italy), and performed numerous miracles, healing the sick. When he was almost one hundred years old he was arrested in the middle of the night (to avoid protests from people of Terni), tortured and decapitated in Rome during the ruling of Marc Aureliu.

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12th Day of Christmas Haiku, #Haiku, #drummers #drumming via @PatFurstenberg

12th Day of Christmas Haiku: Twelve Drummers Drumming

Twelve drummers drumming

Pa-ra-pa-pam-pam. Peace on

Earth. First snow falls soft.

~

Happy New Year 2019!

In older versions of the song the twelve drummers drumming were lords a-leaping, bells ringing, fiddlers a-fiddling.

It seems that the first drums were introduced to Europe during the Crusades, brought back from the Holy Land; they were Egyptian and Sumerians.

I hope you will enjoy the 12 Days of Christmas haiku; there will be published one each day starting on Christmas Day. Subscribe to my newsletter to never miss a blog post.

You can enjoy more haiku on this page of my website.

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12 Days of Christmas images available freely on 3dinosaurs.com

Text and Haiku-San © Patricia Furstenberg.

I hope you enjoyed my haiku. Let me know your thoughts in comment below.

11th Day of Christmas Haiku, #Haiku, #pipers #piping via @PatFurstenberg

11th Day of Christmas Haiku: Eleven Pipers Piping

Graceful tartan plaids

With auld bag pipes and wee drums.

Soar, golden eagle.

~

Happy New Year 2019!

In previous versions of “12 Days of Christmas” the pipers piping were ladies dancing, ladies spinning, badgers baiting, lords a-leading, lads a-louping or bulls a-beating.

The pipers piping might be a remembrance of the shepherds siting by the fire the night Jesus was born and, most probably, playing their pipes. Later bagpipes were used by musicians and became a symbol associated with Scottish fighters and soldiers.

The french bagpipe was called musette and was played by the upper class during 17th-18th centuries only to be picked up by rural people later on.

I hope you will enjoy the 12 Days of Christmas haiku; there will be published one each day starting on Christmas Day. Subscribe to my newsletter to never miss a blog post.

You can enjoy more haiku on this page of my website.

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12 Days of Christmas images available freely on 3dinosaurs.com

Text and Haiku-San © Patricia Furstenberg.

I hope you enjoyed my haiku. Let me know your thoughts in comment below.

5th Day of Christmas Haiku, #Christmas, #Haiku, #goldenrings via @PatFurstenberg

5th Day of Christmas Haiku: Five Golden Rings

Circle of promise

Written in gold, forever.

Five rings mugger’s luck.

~

I hope you will enjoy the 12 Days of Christmas haiku; there will be published one each day starting on Christmas Day. Subscribe to my newsletter to never miss a blog post.

In previous versions of “12 Days of Christmas” five golden rings have been hares running or goldie rings.

These golden rings seem a bit out of place mentions in the middle of a list of birds (partridge, doves, hens, calling birds, geese, swans), isn’t it?

Golden Pheasant
Golden Pheasant

That’s because they might actually refer to the golded rings around the neck of the Golden Pheasant.

Some scholars suggest that the golden rings are actually goldspinks, a 1700’s name for another bird, the European Goldfinch.

There is a Greek legend that might played some influence here. It speaks of Jason and the Argonauts, his crew of men, who went in the quest for the Golden Fleece as ordered by kind Pelias in order to place Jason legally on the throne of Thessaly.

“To take my throne, which you shall, you must go on a quest to find the Golden Fleece.”

From their quest they also brought golden birds, Phasianos ornis in Greek, bird of the river Phasis (Φασιανὸς ὂρνις), the “ring-necked pheasant. But being just introduced in the country they were quite scares so eating them was a luxury of the very rich.

You can enjoy more haiku on this page of my website.

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12 Days of Christmas images available freely on 3dinosaurs.com

Text and Haiku-San © Patricia Furstenberg.

I hope you enjoyed my haiku. Let me know your thoughts in comment below.

1st Day of Christmas Haiku, #Christmas, #partridge, #peartree via @PatFurstenberg

1st Day of Christmas Sunday Haiku: Haiku-San, A Partridge in a Pear Tree

Partridge in pear tree

Feathers fly around, chirping.

I contemplate snow.

~

Merry Christmas!

I hope you will enjoy the “12 Days of Christmas” themed haiku published here starting today, on the Day Christianity celebrates the Birth of Jesus. This song is over 230 years old and was first publish without musical accompaniment, as a chant.

What is the pear tree doing in a Christmas song? Cecil Sharp, an English folk song connoisseur, believes that pear tree is just the French perdrix (partridge) lost in translation: “un’ perdrix sole”

Did you know that in the old versions of “12 Days of Christmas” the word on was not present at the beginning of each verse? It was introduced in the 1909 printed version of Austin and it stuck – proof to the power of the printed word.

Did you know that some older versions have juniper tree or June apple tree instead of pear tree?

In older versions my true love is  replaced by my mother and partridge is replaced with very pretty peacock.

“12 Days of Christmas” is a cumulative song, the verse structure modified so that each verse is based on the previous one with minor additions. Other such songs are The Barley Mow:

“Here’s good luck to the pint pot,
Good luck to the barley mow
Jolly good luck to the pint pot,
Good luck to the barley mow.

Here’s good luck to the quart pot,
Good luck to the barley mow
Jolly good luck to the quart pot,
Good luck to the barley mow”

or The Rattlin’ Bog:

“Hi ho, the rattlin’ bog,
The bog down in the valley-o,
Hi ho, the rattlin’ bog,
The bog down in the valley-o.

1. Now in the bog there was a tree,
A rare tree, a rattlin’ tree,
The tree in the bog,
And the bog down in the valley-o.

2. And on that tree there was a branch,
A rare branch, a rattlin’ branch,
The branch on the tree, and the tree in the bog,
And the bog down in the valley-o.”

Yiddish folk music contains many wonderful examples of cumulative songs. The French nursery rhyme Alouette is another great example.

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12 Days of Christmas images available freely on 3dinosaurs.com

Text and Haiku-San © Patricia Furstenberg.

The song verse are quoted for educational purpose only, source wikipedia.

I hope you enjoyed my haiku. Let me know your thoughts in comment below.

 

Festive Dessert for Christmas and Easter, Romanian Cozonac, a Sweet Bread Recipe, Reteta Cozonac

Cozonac Recipe @PatFurstenberg

Cozonac is not only a culinary tradition , but a lesson in history as well. First baked in Ancient Egypt, sweetened with honey and filled with nuts, it soon appealed the Greeks plakoús, πλακούς – who added raisins and walnuts into its filling. Next, the Romans loved it, adding their own spin to the recipe, dried fruits, and sharing it all over the Roman Empire – Romania included.

Cozonac Recipe

NOTE: this recipe makes 4 loaves (and 3 baby ones, please see below). Half it if you want to make less.

The cozonac is a sweet bread with filling, so having a filling is crucial for an all rounded taste.

TIME: preparation alone, between 3 – 4 hrs with baking time (because the cozonac must be allowed to rise twice). To reduce this time you can prepare the nut filling the day before).

This recipe makes 4 loaves and 3 baby ones

The recipe for cozonac consists of two parts:

  • the filling (this is a nut filling, but if you are allergic to nuts or prefer not to use nuts, you can skip this part and use 250 g small cut Turkish Delight or plain chocolate spread instead);
  • the sweet bread dough.

Nut filling recipe (for 2 loaves):

  • 250 ml milk (I used a lactose-free coffee creamer)
  • 425 g ground walnuts (TIP: you can put the walnuts in a sandwich bag and roll them over with a rolling pin – please see below)
  • 170 g white sugar
  • 40 ml rum extract (you can substitute with 10 ml vanilla extract)
  • 10 ml lemon extract (or lemon juice)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon zest
  • 2 Tbsp good cocoa powder (even 3 Tbsp if you love cocoa)


You can put the walnuts in a sandwich bag and roll them over with a rolling pin to ground them.
Cut the Turkish delight in quarters. You can use snow sugar (icing sugar) to stop it from sticking.

How to prepare the nut filling:

Melt sugar in milk over medium heat.

Melt sugar in milk over medium heat.

Add ground walnuts and stir for 10 minutes, until mixture is thickened.

Add ground walnuts and stir for 10 minutes, until mixture is thickened.

Remove from the heat and add cocoa, rum extract, lemon extract, and lemon zest. Set aside and let it cool.

Remove from the heat and add cocoa, rum extract, lemon extract, and lemon zest.

Sweet bread dough recipe (makes 4 loaves):

  • 1 l milk (I used a lactose-free coffee creamer)
  • 2 kg white flour
  • 12 Tbsp white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp lemon zest
  • 40 ml rum extract (or use 5ml lemon juice + 10ml Vanilla)
  • 6 -9 eggs at room temperature (depending on the size, e.g. 6 XL or 9 small). Use the freshest eggs you can find. The yolks will also give the cozonac, when cooked, a lovely light-yellow tint.
  • 300 g butter (at room temperature)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 packets fast rising dry yeast (3×10 g)
  • 1 beaten egg for brushing the top of the loaves (or milk)

TIP: you will need a mixing bowl big enough to accommodate both your fists and still to give you enough space to knead the dough. A big cooking pot can also be used.

Mix butter, 1/2 of the milk and sugar in a saucepan and place it over medium heat until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved. Add the other 1/2 of the milk and let it cool until just warm.

Mix butter, 1/2 of the milk and sugar in a saucepan and place it over medium heat

Beat the eggs and blend them in the lukewarm milk mixture. Add lemon zest and rum / vanilla essence. Mixture should be +- 35 Degrees before adding it to the flour (too cool and the yeast will not be activated; too hot and it will kill the yeast).

We used 9 small size eggs.
You need 3 tablespoons of lemon zest in total.

In a large bowl place the white flour, sprinkle the salt and the dry yeast and give it a little mix. Make a hole in the center, like a well. Add the butter-milk-sugar-egg-essence mixture in this well. Mix with a wooden spoon until all ingredients are blended together – see images below.

In a large bowl place the white flour, sprinkle the salt and the dry yeast. Add the butter-milk-sugar-egg-essence mixture in.
Mix with a wooden spoon until all ingredients are blended together.

Next you need to knead the dough with your fists for about 15 minutes. Knead then fold it over, turn the bowl 180 degrees and repeat. This will get the yeast to work. If the dough sticks to your hands pour a little bit of cooking oil (a teaspoon the most) over your hands and rub them, then knead again.

Knead then fold it over, turn the bowl 180 degrees and repeat.

Just when you are done (15 minutes later) tug the dough in all around turning it into a nice, flat ball, rub a little bit more cooking oil over its top and all around the walls of the bowl. This is important as the dough will rise, you don’t want it to stick to the walls of the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic and a clean tea towel and place in a warm spot. Allow the dough to rise until double in size. (about 20 – 30min)

Cover the bowl with plastic and a clean tea towel

Meanwhile, oil and flour your loaf pans and sprinkle your working area with flour. You can feel like a kid again and draw something…

Oil and flour your loaf pans and sprinkle your working area with flour.

Once the dough doubled in size kneed it down the dough once or twice, then divide it into the number of loaves you decided to make.

Once it doubled in size kneed down the dough once or twice

Pick one of the balls of dough and, while holding it above the working surface, stretch it a bit. Lay it flat and roll it with the rolling pin until it is about 3-4mm thick. In lengths, it has to be a little bit longer than your cooking pan. With a butter knife divide it in three.

For each loaf: roll the dough about 3-4 mm think, cut it in three strips.

TIP: consider how many loaves you will make and divide the nut filling or the Turkish delight accordingly.

Fill each of the three strips with the fillings desired. Roll each strip, pinch both ends and pinch along the rolled edge. Plait the three rolls together into a loaf. Carefully pick it up and place it in the pan.

Fill each of the three strips with the fillings desired. Roll each strip Plait the three rolls together into a loaf.

Repeat for the remainder loaves.

Repeat for the remainder loaves.

Place each cozonac into a greased and floured loaf pan, brush with egg or milk and cover with a lightly greased plastic and a clean tea towel.

Place each cozonac into a greased and floured loaf pan, brush with egg or milk and cover with a lightly greased plastic

Allow the loaves to rise for another 20-30 minutes in a warm place.

Switch on the oven at 170 degrees Celsius or 340 Fahrenheit (Gas 3-4).

Bake for about 45 minutes or until light brown.

Bake for about 45 minutes or until light brown.

Set the pans on their side for 5 minutes.

Remove from the pan using a butter knife and then allow the cozonac to cool completely before serving – if you can resist it.

Serve with milk, coffee, tea, ice cream, red wine or with hard boiled egg and spring onion for breakfast!

Cozonac is best enjoyed with milk, coffee, tea, ice cream, red wine…

Merry Christmas! Craciun Fericit!

What about you? What is your favorite Christmas meal?

If you decide to make cozonac using the recipe above, do send me a picture of your cozonac. I would love to post it here!