March in red and white
One can mean a lot of things. A number, a hope, a victory, a brand new start, a very first step, a singularity or, on the contrary, a piece of joy repeated every year without exception. A mother remembers for life her child’s first smile just as we, as persons, always have one funny favourite memory, one favourite song or movie, one true love or one friend who’s like a sister or brother for us. In fact, the whole world could be divided in infinite pieces of one. But right now, I want to tell you about ONE special tradition that paints the entire month of March in red and white strings.
On the 1st of March we celebrate the day as a symbol of a new beginning, the melting of winter in the spring’s fresh sunshine, but, not least, this day marks an old yet lovely custom of Romanians (along with their Moldavans and Bulgarian neighbors) to wear to the chest a little object called MĂRȚIȘOR. This talisman bears the holiday’s name itself and represents the diminutive of the Romanian version of March (martie).
Between the 1st and 8th of this month, men offer to their beloved women (or to their female work colleagues and even sisters) the Mărțișor as a gift that is meant to bring joy, health and prosperity in the current year. It also comes in a big diversity of forms: from the hand crafted ones to some expensive jewerly with a red and white thread, every single one of them representing the respect and the admiration that women receive from the men. Even so, this annual habbit isn’t practiced only in the grown-ups world, but also among the school-age children from all over the country. This tiny symbol of spring is worn attached to the everyday clothes and it’s taken off only when the last day of March is over. Along with this object, the women may also receive bouques flowers (especially snowdrops) or bracelets in the same traditional red and white colours.
But let’s stop now and wonder WHY and WHAT. Why red and why white? And then, what stands behind this very particular tradition which persists to this day even if it’s covered in the magical dust of mythical times.
Fire and snow
Well, the half red part of the mărțișor is associated with life itself, that restarts symbolically is the very first day of spring. It’s fire and blood, heart and passion, power and love and, all together, these meanings become a figurative representation of the warm seasons that brings vitality and great lust for living.
On the other hand, white is a wintery colour, cold and pure, empty on the surface, yet so full of interpretations if we look beyond appearances. White reflects not only the innocence and the initiation in something new, but also the silence of the soul, the beauty hidden in snowdrops and the snow that is finally disappearing at the first signs of spring. It’s the unaltered joy of hope, the promise of a better beginning, the symbol of a spiritual rebirth.
These two colours were not accidentally united in a single thread; they mean the strenght and the sensitivity of life, the warmth and the cold, the silence and the volcanic passion which characterises our world.
There are many stories about the appearance of the Mărțisor, but no one knows for sure which one of them is real and which ones are entirely the result of people’s imagination. But I can definitely tell you the one that is perhaps the most famous legend correlated with its existence.
The holiday is associated with a fundamental story of the Romanian folklore about Baba Dochia (baba meaning and old woman). In fact, it is said that the daughter of a Dacian emperor, Decebal, Dochia wasn’t old at all and that she would even have been very beautiful. When the Romans arrived in Dacia, their lider, the emperor Traian, fell in love with Dochia. She refused to become his wife and ran away in the Ceahlău mountains and prayed to the Zamolxe god to never be found by him; thus, she was transformed forever into a rock. It is also said that the mărțișor’s string represents a rope of time, 365 or 366 days long, spun by Dochia herself as she climbed the sheeps on the mountain. Similar to the mockers who spin the thread of the child’s life at birth, Dochia spins the year’s thread in the spring, at the birth of the calendar year.
In the present…
March remains for the Romanians the month of the mărțișor, a reason of joy and a two-colour way to mark the beginning of spring, the rebirth of nature and human spirit and, essencially, a time when red and white become a lovely symbol of love for life.
Make sure to pay attention to this tiny little thing whose meanings are much larger than its zise and don’t let this old but current tradition pass by you this year. This new season is all about red, white and happiness!