Mărțișor is a holiday that symbolizes the arrival of spring. The Mărțișor day is a Romanian tradition celebrated on March 1st, and it represents a time of joy and revival of nature. In the Romanian language, the word "Mărțișor" is derived from the word "Marț", the folkloric name for the month of March. The literal translation of Mărțișor would be "Little March".
But Mărțișor is not entirely a Romanian tradition. Although many people celebrate this beautiful tradition in Moldova and Romania, similar holidays can be found in Bulgaria, Albania, or Italy.
The central piece of this holiday is a red and white string which bears the same name as the holiday itself. The red color symbolizes vitality and life, and it is associated with the passion of women, while the white threads are associated with victory, snow, and the wisdom of men. This piece of cotton is believed to bring protection against evil spirits and to evoke the revitalization of nature. For this reason, people used to hang the mărțișor on their front gates or wear it along with painted river pebbles around the neck.
Initially, 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. Those who received a mărțișor were supposed to wear it for the whole month, and then hang it on the twig of a fruit tree. It was believed that the pendant had magical properties and that it will bring good luck, strength, and health on the person wearing the mărțișor.
Handmade Romanian mărțișor
In modern times, the string is paired with a small decorative object and offered as a gift along with spring flowers and good wishes. The pendant lost much of its magical properties and is rather used as a symbol of love, appreciation, friendship, and respect.
The traditional roots of the Mărțișor go back to the time of ancient Rome and the Daco-Thracians. It is hard to pinpoint its exact origin, but throughout the years it has created and influenced numerous traditional legends and stories. And the most interesting of them all is by far the legend of Baba Dochia, one of the most popular figures in Romanian mythology.
Baba Dochia is a figure identified with the arrival of spring. Legend has it that Baba Dochia's son, Dragobete, married against her will. Upon finding out, she sent her new daughter-in-law to a nearby river to wash some black wool until it turns white. But no matter how hard she would try, the wool would not change color, and the poor girl started crying, fearful that she would never see her husband again. Upon seeing this, Jesus came down to Earth and offered her a red flower to wash the wool with. When the girl returned to Baba Dochia with the wool as white as fresh snow, she believed that Spring has arrived, so she left with her flock for Ceahlau in the Carpathian Mountains, wearing nine wool coats. As she advanced higher on the mountain, the weather got warmer each day, and she dropped her coats one by one. But as soon as she let go of her last coat, the weather turned bad and Baba Dochia froze on the mountain, together with her flock.
A folkloric myth associates the 9 coats of Baba Dochia with the first nine days of March. It is said that the spirit of Baba Dochia haunts the earth Between March 1st and March 9th, bringing snowstorms and cold weather.
Tradition has it that on the first day of March, women have to pick one of the first nine days of the month as their babă (hag). If the day they chose turns out to be warm and pleasant, then they will age beautifully and their spirit will be forever young. But if the day turns out to be cold, then they will turn bitter and turn into a hag.