MARTISOR – a unique Romanian celebration!

by Viviana on February 27, 2010


martisorMarch 1st is the obvious date for the first celebration of spring, which in Romanian is called “Martisor”.   While Martisor is similar to other Balkan spring festivals, especially the Bulgarian celebration of Martenitsa, it retains many unique features that make it an all-Romanian holiday.

Ladies, don’t be surprised if, on March, 1st you receive gifts that look like cheap pins, tied to red and white silk string.  This is the remnant of an altogether different gift from the past.  Today only women receive the Martisor (and it is usually only given by men), but it was once a gift for both men and women.  It can now be anything, from painted tin or ceramic flowers to a plastic Superman, but it was once a gold coin, and later any symbol of luck in Romanian culture:  a horseshoe, a cloverleaf, a chimney sweep, etc.

Historically, Martisor can be traced back to the Dacians, the ancestors of modern Romanians, who used to hold celebrations in late winter/early spring.  These were inspired partly by the Roman celebration Matronalia, and partly by a Balkan custom, in which the first stork, the first snowdrops that pierce the river ice, and the two first consecutive sunny days meant that spring has arrived, and it’s time to celebrate.  Other legends connect Martisor to Baba Dochia.

It’s not easy to trace the origins of the talismans that are now called Martisor, but most historians agree that the custom may be as much as 1,000 years old.  As mentioned above, the original talisman was not an artifact, but a coin.  In some areas, the metal it was made from was a sign of one’s social standing – gold for the rich and bronze for the poor.  But it was always a coin, tied around the neck, angle or wrist with red & white string.  The custom of the coin is preserved today only in Bukovina.  There, it’s worn for 12 days, after which it’s sold for cheese, according to the folk belief that this will keep one’s face white and beautiful throughout the year.

In other places, Martisor has changed over the years, and any wearable spring token is acceptable.  People pin the Martisor to their coats, and wear it either the entire month of March, or for 12 days only (in Bukovina, as mentioned above, as well as Moldavia and Dobruja).  It can actually be worn indefinitely, so don’t be surprised to see it on someone’s coat even in May, and it’s taken off only when one sees the first stork in flight.  In other places, such as central Romania, it’s traditionally worn only during the day, as it is said that the Martisor has great powers, and can protect one from the deceitful spring sun, that can turn one’s skin black!  You can also tie your talisman to the branches of a tree near your home.

Another legend in line with the spring celebrations is Babele (Old Ladies’ Days).  This legend says that from March 1- 9 you are let into the secret of how your life is going to be in the coming year.  Here’s the way to do it:  take your birth date and reduce it to a number between 1 and 9.  For example, if your birth date is the 14th, your Baba (Old Lady’s Day) is on the 5th of March (1+4=5), and if your birth date is the 29th, your Baba is on the 2nd of March (2+9=11, 1+1=2).  If the weather is good on your chosen day, your life will be easy all year long.  Even if your day is filled with hailstorms, however, there is an easy antidote:  Wear your Martisor, and it will protect you from all hardships!

Finally, if you are worried you may not be able to celebrate Martisor once you leave Romania, we’re happy to tell you that the tradition has gone global.  For the past few years, most Martisor tokens have been made in China!

source: WORDLAND

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Brett Widmann 8 years ago at 7:55 pm

Very nice little post you have here. We don’t really have spring festivals here in central WI… but we have a lot of church picnics in the summer!

Viviana 8 years ago at 8:16 pm

Can you tell me more about church picnics? No idea what that is. Thanks.

Brett Widmann 8 years ago at 8:19 pm

Oh, sure! They are little festivals usually held on church grounds. In my area, most of them have polka bands that play, food, some games for kids, and lots of beer and drinking for the adults. My grandma and I used to go to a lot of them. In the area where I live, most of the ancestors are of German or Polish descent, so that’s where all of the influence comes from.

The Catholic Churches will also sometimes hold what is called a Polka Mass, where it’s church… with polka music. Definitely unique.

Viviana 8 years ago at 8:34 pm

Well, MY grandma was very sick today, but the ambulance came quickly and she is recovered now (she will be 90 in May). I am very close to her, we live together. And as I have my Adara, that makes 4 generations living in the same house (with my dad missing though, God rest him in peace). Grannie was the greatest fun when she was younger and even now she can kick ass sometimes! I will check the Internet for some Polka Mass videos.

Brett Widmann 8 years ago at 8:57 pm

Yeah, I am sure a few videos exist :) I just took my grandma into the hospital last week… turned out to be a urinary tract infection, which was a relief. I know what you mean, though. I was raised by my grandmother. She lives about 5 minutes away, so she’s always very close. She’ll be 81 in July :)

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