Interwoven white and red threads bring good health, luck and prosperity. Today is the Day of Mărţişor, when Romanians, Moldovans and Bulgarians celebrate the beginning of Spring.
The month of March opens with a festivity common to many peoples of Eastern Europe, who celebrate the coming of Spring.
Originally Romanian (or rather Daco- Thracian), this ancient spring celebration, connected to fertility and the rebirth of nature, is a tradition authentic in Romania, Moldovans, and all territories inhabited by Romanians and Aromanians.
Alike though not identical customs can be found in Bulgaria.
The Mărțișor tradition
The name Mărțișor [mərtsiʃor] is the diminutive of marț, the old folk name for March (Martie, in modern Romanian), and thus literally means "little March". It is also the folk name for this month.
Mărțișor, marţ and mărțiguș are all names for the interwoven white and red threads, on which a small decoration is tied, offered as a sign of good health, luck and prosperity to friends on the 1st day of March. It's forms are various, suitable for all ages. It can be a bracelet, a necklace, a brooch or a decoration that represents many different things – flowers, animals, hearts – and can be made of cloth, plastic or glass. In Bulgaria, the traditional and most popular "Martenitsa" is that of Pijo and Penda, two dolls, male and female, usually dressed in traditional clothes, and strictly white and red.
This much loved "trinket", that everyone wears with the arrival in March, brings health, wellness, vitality, harmony and is usually given to relatives and friends. It is believed that the wearer will enjoy its benefits for the rest of the year. It is an ancient pagan tradition, preserved over the centuries, with variations depending on the region.
The various Mărțișor celebrations
Many and various are the customs. In Romania, the Mărțișor is worn for nine days (in some areas even longer, until the Spring equinox). The first 9 days of March are called Baba Dochia's Days, Baba Dochia being an image of the Great Earth Goddess.
Traditionally, women choose one day from March 1 to 9, and, judging by the weather on the chosen day, they would know how the new year will go for them. If that day is sunny, sunny and positive will the rest of the year be for that person; other kinds of weather will give a lesser chance of having a profitable year. Similarly, in some areas young men find out what their wives are going to be like.
In Bulgaria the Martenitsa is put up at the appearance of the first swallow. Then they are hung on the trees, whose branches, at the end of March, are decorated with many red and white strings. It is not strange to see them nowadays even in Great Britain, as family back at home do not forget to send a Martenitsa or Mărțișor to their loved ones.
Origins of Mărțișor
If you seek the roots of the holiday, you end up in faraway history.
In ancient Rome, New Year's Eve was celebrated on March 1 – 'Martius', as the month was called in the honour of the god Mars. Mars was not only the god of war but also an agricultural guardian, who ensured nature's rebirth. Therefore, the red and white colours of Mărţişor may be explained as colours of war and peace.
The Thracians also used to celebrate the New Year's Eve on the first day of March, a month which took the name of the god Marsyas Silen, the inventor of the pipe (fluier, traditional musical instrument), whose cult was related to the land and vegetation. Thracian spring celebrations, connected to fertility and the rebirth of nature, were consecrated to him.
It seems that many battles began in early March and when the soldiers left their home, their wives were concerned. For this reason they decided to give their little men in white and red lucky charm that recalls the warriors and their families. That's why the Bulgarian Martenitsa, is made up by a male and a female, made of cloth. The color red represents the blood that women were hoping would not be spilt, and white the pale colour of their faces as the waited for their husbands to return.