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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Find all my book on Amazon. Enjoy!

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.

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