1 March, Martisor – Tradition and Symbolism in Romania

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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4 Replies to “1 March, Martisor – Tradition and Symbolism in Romania”

  1. Pat, a fascinating post and I loved learning about the Martisor and all its symbolism! How interesting to have only the two seasons … the way of the weather these days it almost feels right! Have a lovely Sunday, Pat!

  2. Thank you so much, Annika. Yes, I also found the two seasons as a striking image, maybe I should look deeper into this. Romania has (or had, until recently when global warming became a reality) four lovely seasons…
    Oh, I have such warm memories about Martisor. Celebrating at school with my friends, working for days on end before March 1st to have one for each of my friends… and for the teachers. And my mom, aunt… oh, the list went on and on 🙂
    We would buy ladybirds, flowers, a chimney sweep, four leave clovers – all made of tin and tied with a red-white string.
    The tiny ones, made out of glass, I would keep them for myself. I still have them. As delicate as snowdrops.
    Thank you for stopping by 🙂 xx

  3. Bless you, Daniel. I do appreciate your comment. However, something tells me it is not so as I know you to be a writer of a vast knowledge.
    And I look forward to reading one of your books I just downloaded, “The Widow’s Son”.
    Have a wonderful Sunday further!

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