Martisor, 1 March, Celebrating Old and New, Change and Hope

Romanian Martisor, poignant charm, gift from the heart on 1 March, celebrates the old year and the new one, the change, renewal, and hope in the future. Discover its charming tradition with me, then read more 1 March Martisor tales.

Once upon a time, when people still looked at the Moon and the Sun for guidance and stability, the New Year was celebrated in March. Dacians did so, and Romans too.

Ahead of the first New Moon of March (on the 21st of March this year), while the weather was fickle and the crescent was blamed for it, men and women, young and old, gathered strands of wool, black ones and white ones, to twist a string, the cord of life.

Nimble fingers, gnarly ones too, strong hands that knew war tools, small and soft ones with skin like petals too, they all braided the year’s lifeline.

a martisor in red and white is placed around the neck of a lamb foe good luck and hope on 1 March
Image Source UNESCO, with thanks.

And after this night of the New Moon, when the old year died taking along its ugly past, and the new one was born, a bringer or hope and merriment, and new beginnings too, they gifted this lifeline of hope, this good charm, to their loved ones. They tied it around the wrist, and tied it on the doors of the barns where the cows and sheep rested, and around the horns of the oxen, and the ankles of the hens (if they could catch them) – a white spell for a blessed new beginning, a spell of good luck.

“New Moon, New Moon,
In good health you found me
with good health leave me.
Without a wife if you found me,
with a wife leave me.
New Moon, New Moon,
may you cut the bread in two,
Half for you,
Blessed health for me!”

Old Romanian New Moon Song (translated after Niculita-Voronca, 1903)

A magic circle for protection, for change and hope.

As the future cannot be born without the past and life cannot be without death, the black strand symbolized fertility, that of the ground and of the womb, and of the clouds with bellies full of life-giving rain. The white string remembered the snow, sleeping winters and death, barrenness, of the heart and the home, as well as mourning.

The new cannot arrive without the old gone, life cannot be born without death, day won’t be without night leaving.

The Dacians would have braided such strings too, adding (those who could afford, but many would have, as Dacia’s land was blessed in minerals, silver and gold, salt too) – a silver coin, or a coppery one. A silvery charm, a slice of the silver moon, gifted on a meaningful night to convey some of the lunar power to the one who wears it, as the threshold over the years was crossed.

lunaria, silver coin plant

From black and white to red and white. A change of customs, after so many changes under Roman occupation.

The Roman occupation of Dacia brought along not only strange people, but a new language, new names, and new traditions. It was around the Ides of March, with the new year and the thawing of snow, when Romans started their new military campaigns. March, named for the God of War Mars, ruled by fiery red.

Mars, the warrior. Mars, the naughty one.

There’s a Romanian folk tale about March and it goes like this. Once upon a time… March invited April to visit. Taking May’s advice, April brought along a cart, a sleigh & a boat as March had the reputation of a trickster. Thus, April was able to visit.

What would you have done to save your traditions? What most nations conquered by Romans did – blend old and new, like twisting the , adapt. Survive. Although, as Tertulian (early Christian author, born 160AD) left us, many priests preached against adopting and keeping the Roman holidays.

As of 2017, UNESCO included the Mărţişor on its list of cultural practices associated with 1 March.
As of 2017, UNESCO included the Mărţişor on its list of cultural practices associated with 1 March – image source.

The good-luck charm, martisor, is now gifted by Romanians on the 1st of March (when Romans also celebrated Matronalia, dedicated to the women in their lives). We wear it around the wrist, or we adorn ourselves with it – and keep it on until we spot the first branch in bloom. Then, we hag the red and white lifeline on the tree, passing on the good-luck charm and closing the circle.

And while you do this, if you will, whisper to yourself, whisper a wish in the wind. From the heart. It might just come true:

“Holy Sun, blessed Sun,
take my martisor as gift
and in its place keep me safe,
ban the freckles from my face,
take what’s dark and what’s mishap,
my face a flower be,
for eternity,
holy sun, blessed sun.”

A Martisor folks’ rhyme from Romania

You can enjoy more stories inspired by how the Roman Empire shaped the history of Dacia, today Romania, in both my latest historical fiction books:

Dacian Roman war Transylvania stories historical fiction
Dacian Roman wars, Transylvanian stories, historical fiction and folklore

11 Replies to “Martisor, 1 March, Celebrating Old and New, Change and Hope”

  1. Happy spring! O primăvară frumoasă. Mărțișorul este una din tradițiile mele preferate. Am primit patru mărțișoare până acum. 🙂 Pe trei dintre ele le port. Al patrulea n-are ac.

  2. La Multi.ani, draga Jo! Happy Spring.
    Sa le porti cu bucurie
    Sa stii ca nu am uitat de Tigaie, dar timpul a zburat de la intoarcerea noastra si nu stiu nici incotro a luat-o. Dar nu am uitat.✨️

    1. It is a charming tradition and one I grew up with. Each March 1st we would take “martisoare” to school and offer them to our girlfriends and to the female teachers. )

  3. This is a really beautiful tradition, Patricia. Once again, thank you so much for sharing all these wonderful stories from Romanian history and culture.

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