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Celebrating Mărțișor in Romania – what does this special day mean?

These days we are celebrating Mărțișor in Romania again. But what does this celebration mean exactly, and where does it come from?

In Romania, March has the popular name “Mărțișor”. As we all know, starting with March spring begins, the weather gradually warms up, and the nature begins its regeneration and reborning.

Mărțișor – symbol of the spring

For those who don’t know yet, Mărțișorul is a white and red thread which is usually attached to a small item, linked to a symbolic representation: a small artisanal object which is usually a symbol of the spring. The mărțișor appears in the tradition of Romanians and also of some of the neighbouring countries, like Bulgaria.

Historically, the Mărțișor was called the “Year’s Rope”, and it was made of wool threads of black and white, representing the union of opposites: summer and winter, light and darkness, cold and warmth, life and death. It was believed that the Mărțișor had magical properties and that it will bring good luck, strength, and health on the person wearing it. Usually women and girls are receiving Mărțișoare and they wear them during the month of March, as a sign of the arrival of spring. Along with the celebration of Mărțișor in Romania, spring flowers are also offered, the most representative being the snowdrop.

Old legends for Mărțișor in Romania

There are several traditions and myths related to the month of March and the beginning of spring season. One of the first legends goes back to the first century. The legend is connected to a solar eclipse. It was believed that the sun, seeing how much fun people on Earth in these regions had, wanted to enjoy the pleasures of a man. So, during a festival, he came disguised as a young man. Unfortunately the young man was kidnapped.

Although people were sad due to the lack of sun, no one had the courage to free the sun. One day, a young man decided to free the sun. He managed to free the sun but unfortunately, he died before he could enjoy the spring. Injured, all the warm blood went on the white snow, melting it.

Another myth links March 1st to Baba Dochia. In Romanian mythology Baba Dochia, or The Old Dokia, is a figure associated with the return of spring.  The first 9 days of March are dedicated to her, being known in local culture as “Babele” (in English translation: “Old women”). The nine days are associated with the 9 coats Baba Dochia had on her when she left for the mountains and froze to death after throwing her coats away. Also on March 1st there is the tradition that each woman chooses a day between March 1 and 9. According to the tradition, just as the weather is on the day you choose, so will be all the days of spring for you: beautiful or ugly.

How old is this celebration?

According to archaeological researches, the celebration of Mărțișor in Romania traces its history more than 8,000 years ago. Some ethnologists believe that the Mărțișor celebration has Roman origins, while others supporting the theory that it is rather an old local Dacian tradition.

A very interesting fact linked to 1st of March is that, in the ancient Rome, the New Year’s Eve was celebrated on the 1st of March. Actually, the month of March was named in the honor of the God Mars. Mars was not only the God of war, but also the God of agriculture, which contributes to the rebirth of nature, so spring is strongly associated with the rebirth.

In our days, a mărțișor is worn for the entire month of March, after which it is hanged by the branches of a fruit tree. It is believed that this will bring wealth in people’s homes. It is said that, if someone makes a wish while hanging the mărțișor in the tree, it will be fulfilled once and for all.

Some women pin one or more ‘mărțișoare’ on their blouse, while others just wear a red-white lace on their wrist. At the end of March, the red-white threads are tied to a branch of a fruit tree as a sign of wealth generation. On the 8th of March Romanians also participate in the international celebration of Women’s Day. It’s the day when, as a sign of respect and gratitude, all women receive flowers and gifts from their loved ones.

Another interesting celebration happens on the 9th of March. According to the old traditional faith – the graves and gates of Heaven are opened on this date, and the housewives honor the 40 Saints, in Romanian called “mucenici” or “mucinici”.

In honor of the 40 Holy Saints, women prepare mucenici as an offering, under the form of baked bagels, prepared after different recipes. The tradition says you have to bake at least 40 mucenici, that will be served with 40 glasses of red wine.

It is also said that, on this day, the gate of heaven opens, the sky descends to Earth, but man must also ascend to heaven, in a soul-giving, specific to the period in which we are – i.e. the Lent. The happening of this celebration near the spring equinox is not accidental, because in the popular vision the passage between the two worlds can be done only following the path of the Sun.

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