Part of the UNESCO cultural heritage, the tradition of 1 March, Martisor, and its symbolism, are a millennial tradition 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.
1 March, Martisor – how its Tradition started in Romania
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.
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, Martisor – its Symbolism in 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, but also fierce, tumultuous life, youth, passionate love (red) twisted around purity, candid, clean, and new, virginal light (white).
Or so the story of the 1st of March, Martisor, says.
How to wear your Martisor, your 1st of March good-luck trinket
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.
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, when vegetation would die, the be reborn. 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.
Today, the tradition of !st of March, 1 Martie Martisor, especially the red and white thread, is still alive in Romania, and everywhere a Romanian heart beats, but also in the lands once populated by the Thracian tribes such as Republic of Moldova, Bulgaria, North of Macedonia, Greece, and within Romanian communities from Serbia and Ukraine.
The Martisor, this sweet trinket, is more than a good-luck charm. It carries within its heart of hearts the positive energy of a new year, of a season that’s just been reborn, but also a drop of love from the giver to the receiver. Like any gift, the Martisor bring along the blush of an affectionate thought.
How to wear the Martisor
Do fashion it if you don’t have an old one, wear it, the plain red and white entwined strings, before your feet even touch the ground on the morning of the 1st of March. Wear it to bring the sun’s energy into your life as the new season is born.
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.
As of 2017 the cultural practices associated to the 1st of March are included on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, UNESCO.