March 1 - Festival of Martisor

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The festival of Martisor takes place on the first day of March, the first month of spring. The word 'martisor' has Latin origins and is the diminutive and popular name of March (martie in Romanian).

Photo credit: (c) Alex Tudor / AGERPRES FOTO

The martisor is a symbolic calendar represented by a two-colour piece of string, red and white, that gathers the days, weeks and months of the year into two seasons, winter and summer. It is given on March 1, the day of Dochia, the millennia-old beginning of the agrarian year.

Common today in both villages and cities, the martisor is made of two coloured threads, red and white, to which a hand crafted object is attached to be given as a gift to girls and women, who wear it on the breast of their clothes or tied to their wrist one or more days.

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Foto: (c) ALEX TUDOR / AGERPRES FOTO

The tradition of the martisor is a Romanian inherited tradition, the first day of March being celebrated as long as 8,000 years ago, the martisor traces its origins in the agrarian beliefs and practices of those times. In Romania, the oldest proof of the celebration of the martisor was found by archaeologists in Schela Cladovei, in Mehedinti County (south-western Romania) in the form of river stones with traces of white and red paint, whose intertwining symbolized the genesis and regeneration of life.

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Foto: (c) SEBASTIAN OLARU / AGERPRES FOTO

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Foto: (c) CRISTIAN NISTOR / AGERPRES FOTO

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Foto: (c) CRISTIAN NISTOR / AGERPRES FOTO

In the time of the Dacians, the symbols of spring were made in winter and would only be worn after March 1. The martisor was then made up of red and white pebbles strung together and worn around one's neck. The red, given by fire, blood and the sun was used to symbolize life, therefore the woman, whereas the white, given by clear waters was specific to the wisdom of men. The intertwining threads found in the martisor represented, therefore, the harmonious meeting of the two.

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Foto: (c) CRISTIAN NISTOR / AGERPRES FOTO

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Foto: (c) CRISTIAN NISTOR / AGERPRES FOTO

According to other sources, the martisor consisted of coins which were hung on thin threads of wool coloured in black and white. The choice of the coin's material, gold, silver or bronze, indicated the social status. The Dacians believed that these amulets brought fertility, beauty and prevented sunburn. These early forms of the martisor were worn until the trees blossomed, after which the amulets were hung by the branches of the trees.

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Foto: (c) CRISTIAN NISTOR / AGERPRES FOTO

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Foto: (c) SEBASTIAN OLARU / AGERPRES FOTO

Some folk legends unearthed by ethnologists as being of Geto-Dacian origin say that the thread of the martisor, a rope made up of 365 or 366 days, would be spun by Baba Dochia (a folk tale character) as she was driving a herd of sheep to the mountains. These legends also refer to the days of Dochia, the nine "Babe" (old women) and the traditions related to them. Dochia spins the thread in spring, at the start of the agrarian year, just as the three Ursitoare spin a child's life thread at birth (In Romanian mythology, the Ursitoare are said to determine a child's fate by spinning a thread of their lives three days after its birth).

The legend of Baba Dochia says that Dochia was an old woman, who, spiting her daughter-in-law, sent her to the river to wash black wool until it turned white. With her hands bleeding, the young woman saw an magic flower falling in the river and turning the wool white. Seeing the flower, Baba Dochia mistakenly drove her sheep to the mountain believing spring had come and shed her numerous coats along the way, eventually freezing after nine days. The tale links to that of the martisor in the sense that women choose one of the days between March 1 and 9, also called 'Babe' or days of Dochia, and the tradition has it that the day they choose will determine the course of the year to come.

The symbol of the piece of string spun of two threads was used by the Dacians before the Roman conquest. At that time, the colours of the strings were different: black and white. The black represented the black wool given by Baba Dochia to her daughter-in-law and symbolized the dark of winter, while the white thread symbolized the light of spring.

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Foto: (c) ALEX TUDOR / AGERPRES FOTO

The pieces of string were woven by women and were either worn on the breast of their coats or on the wrist of children. However, the martisor was not worn only by children, but also youngsters and adults alike. Furthermore it was tied to the horns of cattle or on the stable's gate to protect livestock. In time, this string saw the addition of a silver coin. The coin was associated with the sun and thus the martisor became a symbol of fire and light as well.

Thus, as the martisor cannot be separated from the tradition of the Carpathian Dochia, one can certainly say that it is an old Romanian custom, attested in all the regions inhabited by Romanians and Aromanians, with a slight difference in the sense that Aromanians start wearing the martisor on the eve of the festival, whereas Romanians wear it on March 1, which was then adopted by other peoples in Central and South-Eastern Europe.

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