March 1, festival of Martisor

The first day of the month of March is the festival of the martisor. The martisor is a symbolical calendar, represented by a two-colour piece of string, which gathers the days, weeks and months of the year in two seasons, winter and summer, and is given as a gift on March 1, the day of Dochia, the millennia-old beginning of the agrarian year.

Generalized today in villages, towns and cities, the martisor is made of two coloured, white and red, threads, to which something made by hand is attached in order to be given as a gift to girls and women, who wear it on the breast of their clothes one or several days.

Although one does not know exactly how long ago this custom can be traced back, it is known that the first day of spring was celebrated as early as about 8,000 years ago and the martisor originates in the agrarian practices and beliefs of that time.

The Romans celebrated the beginning of spring on March 1, the month that bore the name of God Mars, protector of the fields and flocks of sheep, a god that personified the revival of nature. Although the custom bears his name, it has no martial connotation. They say that the martisor brings good luck and happiness. It consists in a red and white small bow: the red signifying winter and the white, spring. Other symbols of good luck, such as a four-leaf clover, a horseshoe, a chimney sweep or a heart, are added to it. The martisor is worn on one’s clothes for a few days, starting on March 1.

At the time of the Dacians, the symbols of spring were made in winter and worn after March 1 only. The martisor was then made up of white and red pebbles on a string and was worn round one’s neck. The red, which was given by fire, blood and the sun, used to symbolize life, therefore, women, and the white, which was given by the clear water, was specific to the wisdom of men. Therefore, the string of the martisor represented the harmonious blending of the two.

According to other sources, the martisor consisted of coins that were hanged on thin black and white threads of wool. The choice of the coin, gold, silver or bronze, indicated the social status. The Dacians thought that these amulets brought fertility, beauty and prevented sunburns. They wore them till trees blossomed, then they hanged them in their branches.

According to some traditions, Baba Dochia span the string of the martisor, a rope made up of 365 and 366 days, while she was climbing the hills behind her sheep.

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 Macedo-Romanians, which was then adopted by other peoples in Central and South-Eastern Europe.

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