Martisor – The March 1 Tradition in Romania

The Martisor Tradition – March 1

As explained by Professor Ion Ghinoiu in “The Folk Calendar”
Comoara Satelor: Calendar Popular – Editura Academiei Romane 2005

“Martisor” is symbolized with white and red twisted thread, representing the winter and the summer, which binds all the 365 days of the year together. It is given as a gift on the 1st of March, the ancient date marking the beginning of the Farming Year. At some point an amulet was added.

At the beginning of the 20th century, a “martisor” with a silver or a gold coin attached was given before sunrise as a gift to young boys and girls on the 1st of March. In present times, it is a popular gift from a man to a woman. The thread would be worn tied around the wrist, or around the neck, or fastened on clothes above the breast. It would be kept until a particular spring holiday such as “Macinici” (Palm Sunday), Easter, “Armindeu”, or until the blossoming of some fruit-trees and shrubs (wild rose, sloe tree, rose tree, hawthorn, cherry tree) when it would be hung on the blossoming tree branches. Those who received a “martisor” believed that they would not be sunburned in the summer, that they would be healthy, beautiful like the flowers, kind, pleasant and loving, rich and lucky and that they would not be affected by illness and by the evil eye.

According to older ethnographical evidence, the “martisor” was made from two twisted woolen threads black and white or white and blue when The New Moon appeared in the sky. The Macedo-Romanians celebrated Martisor” on the eve of the 1st of March, that is in the evening of the 28th or 29th of February. Both the celebrations on the eve of the holiday and the measuring of time in relation to a certain phase of the moon are typical element for the lunar calendars older than the solar ones from today.

The tradition of “Martisor” is inseparable from the Carpathian Dochia tradition, Dochia being a Christian Saint who usurped the power of a lunar and equinoctial goddess. The legend says that the “Martisor” thread was spun by an old woman called Dochia while she was taking the sheep up on the mountains. The spinning of the thread represented the endless flowing of time: when a child is born, the Fates spin the life thread of that person and Dochia spins the thread of the year at the beginning of spring. The custom was recorded in all the territories inhabited by the Romanians, both in the North and in the South of the Danube. Over extended areas in Transylvania, Banat, Maramures, Central Wallachia, Western Oltenia, and Southern Dobrogea, the opening of the vernal equinox and of the Farming New Year was called “Martisor”.