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Mărțișor (Romanian pronunciation: [mərt͡siˈʃor] ( listen)) is a Romanian celebration at the beginning of spring, on March the 1st in Romania, Moldova, and all territories inhabited by Romanians. Alike, though not identical customs can be found in Bulgaria (see Martenitsa), while similar ones exist in Albania, and Italy.
The name Mărțișor 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, marț and mărțiguș are all names for the red and white string from which a small decoration is tied, and which is offered by people on the 1st day of March. The string can also be black and white, or blue and white) Giving this talisman to people is an old custom, and it is believed that the one who wears the red and white string will be strong and healthy for the year to come. It is also a symbol of the coming spring. Usually, both women and men wear it pinned to their clothes, close to the heart, until the last day of March, when they tie it to the branches of a fruit-tree. In some regions, a gold or silver coin hangs on the string, which is worn around the neck. After wearing it for a certain period of time, they buy red wine and sweet cheese with the coin, according to a belief that their faces would remain beautiful and white as cheese, and rubicund as the red wine, for the entire year.
In modern times, and especially in urban areas, the Mărțișor lost most of its talisman properties and became more of a symbol of friendship or love, appreciation and respect. The black threads were replaced with red, but the delicate wool ropes are still a ‘cottage industry’ among people in the countryside, who comb out the wool, dye the floss, and twist it into thousands of tassels. In some areas the amulets are still made with black and white ropes, for warding off evil. A very popular symbol in relation to Martisor is the snowdrop flower, which is also considered in Romania symbol for spring time.
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 Mărțișor 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.
In some areas, Daco-Romanians still celebrate the agrarian New Year in spring, where the first days of March are considered days of a new beginning . Before March 1, women choose one day from the first nine of the month, and judging by the weather on the chosen day, they would know how the new year will go for them. Similarly, in other areas, young men find out what their wives are going to be like. The first 9 days of March are called Baba Dochia's Days, Baba Dochia being an image of the Great Earth Goddess. The tradition says that you must pick a day from 1 to 9 March, and how the weather in that day will be, so it will be for you all year long.
Initially, the "Mărțișor" string used to be called the Year's Rope (funia anului, in Romanian), made by black and white wool threads, representing the 365 days of the year. The Year's Rope was the link between summer and winter, black and white representing the opposition and the unity of the contraries: light and dark, warm and cold, life and death. The Mărțișor is the thread of the days in the year, spun by Baba Dochia (the Old Dochia), or the thread of one's life, spun at birth by the Fates (Ursitoare). White is the symbol of purity, the sum of all the colours, the light, while Black is the colour of origins, of distinction, of fecundation and fertility, the colour of fertile soil. White is the sky, the Father, while black is the mother of all, Mother Earth.
According to ancient Roman tradition, the ides of March was the perfect time to embark on military campaigns. In this context, it is believed that the red string of Mărțișor signifies vitality, while the white one is the symbol of victory. Red is the colour of fire, blood, and a symbol of life, associated with the passion of women. Meanwhile, white is the colour of snow, clouds, and the wisdom of men. In this interpretation, the thread of a Mărțișor represents the union of the feminine and the masculine principles, the vital forces which give birth to the eternal cycle of the nature. Red and white are also complementary colours present in many key traditions of Daco-Romanian folklore.
George Coşbuc stated that Mărțișor is a symbol of fire and light, and of the Sun. The colours and the traditional silver coin hung from the thread are associated with the sun. White, the colour of silver, is a symbol of power and strength. The round form of the coin is also reminiscent of the Sun, while silver is associated with the Moon. These are just a few of the reasons why the Mărțișor is a sacred amulet.
In Daco-Romanian folklore, seasons are attributed symbolic colours: spring is red, summer is green or yellow, autumn is black, and winter is white. This is why one can say that the Mărțișor thread, knitted in white and red, is a symbol of passing, from the cold white winter, to the lively spring, associated with fire and life.
Relation to the Bulgarian Martenitsa
Romanian ethnographers consider Mărțișor and Martenitsa to be clearly related, and of Thracian origin. According to one of the several proposed legends about the Martenitsa in Bulgaria, the custom has roots in the late seventh century. This legend, first attested in the 20th century, says that the Bulgar Khan Asparukh wanted to send a message to Bulgars across the Danube. He tied his letter with a white string to the leg of a white pigeon. The Byzantines saw the pigeon flying and shot it with an arrow. The message was delivered but the white string was stained with the red of the pigeon's blood. The Bulgars then started to wear this thread.
- Alina Alex, The World Reporter. "Romania Welcomes Spring with Martisor Day. History and Traditions". Retrieved 1 March 2012.
- Mărțișorul in Romanian
- Marcel Lutic, Timpul sacru. Sărbătorile de altădată
- DEX Online. "Dicţionare ale limbii române". Retrieved 19 August 2010.
- Martisor music ensemble. "Martisor". Retrieved 3 March 2008.
- Martisorul on CrestinOrtodox.ro (Romanian)
- Martisor – a beautiful tradition in Moldova and Romania on Modova.Org
- World of Moldova
- Romania Welcomes Spring with Martisor Day. History and Traditions
- Martisorul on Crestin-Ortodox.Ro, in Romanian
- Martisorul de 1 martie - Traditie, simbol si semnificatie in Romanian
- Traditii si obiceiuri - Calendarul obiceiurilor in Romanian
- Martisor - obiceiuri de Martisor on Crestin-Ortodox.Ro, in Romanian
- March 1st celebrates Marțișor day in "Act Media".
- Romania Welcomes Spring with Martisor Day. History and Traditions - Info in English by the native students of Romania
- Martisor Gallery - collection of Martisor related images
- Festivalul Mărțișorului – Ediția V – Iași- în imagini - some information (in Romanian) on a Mărțișor exhibition, and also photos