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The story of the Martisor - Resource by Ana Pica - Romania

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                                   The Story . . .


            The story dates back from the time of the Roman occupation of Dacia, during a sun eclipse.It is said that the Sun, looking at the people having fun wanted to enjoy the pleasures of man. So he decided to come to Earth as a young man and take part to the festival. But his happiness was shortly lived because an ogre kidnapped and imprisoned him.

            The people were very sad because there was no more sun. The birds would not sing any more, the children weren't happy any more and the rivers stopped flowing. But still nobody dared to face the ogre, until one day when a brave warrior stepped forward and after taking his strength from the people, he went to challenge the ogre.

            He had searched for the ogre for three seasons, a summer, a fall and a winter until he had found its castle. When he arrived at the castle the brave warrior faced the ogre and they fought for days, until our warrior killed the ogre. In the end the exhausted warrior, with almost no strength, freed the Sun which immediately started to shine thus bringing spring again into the world. Unfortunately the warrior died before he could see the spring season. His warm blood flowed on to the snow until the last drop; where the drops fell a snowdrop rose.

            From that moment on young men make a white and red string wich they offer to the girls whom they love or to those close to them, the red colour reminds us of the warrior’s blood and the white is a symbol of health, purity of the snowdrop and the first flower of spring.


                                   What does "martisor" mean ? 


            To give or to receive a "martisor", its shape or colour, its string, everything represents "something". If we give a person a heart that means that we love her, a snowdrop represents spring. The "martisor" is, in popular tradition, a symbol of weeks, months and years gathered and twisted into a string with two colours, the colours representing the winter and the summer, made as a present on the first of March.

            At the end of the XIX-th century, children received a "martisor" from their parents, on the first day of March, before sunrise. This was made from a gold coin and the string was made from two strings: one white and one black, or white and blue twisted together. The black colour represents the black fur which old woman Dochia gave to her daugther-in-law and symbolises the darkness of winter. The white part symbolises spring. 

The fur, in the legend, changed colour from black to white through the sacrifice of the girl, the daughter-in-law of old woman Dochia. Because of this, the red side symbolises sacrifice and blood.

            It is said that the string from the "martisor", a rope of 365 or 366 days, was sown by old woman Dochia as she went up the mountain with her sheep. Like the fortune-teller that sew the string of life for each new baby, old woman Dochia sows the string of the year.

            The richer families had "martisoare" with the string made of silver and gold. Children would wear it tied to their hand, on their chests or on their necks. The "martisor" was showed at certain feasts like "Macinii", "Florii", Easter and "Arminden" - and it was tied to the branches of trees.

            What was the meaning of all this ritual ? It is believed that those who wear "martisor" will not be burned by the Sun during the summer and that they will be healthy, lucky and beautiful like flowers.  

            After some time, marbles, beautifully colored, took the place of the coin.

            The "martisor" is actually a remnance of a ritual to renew the time during spring, at the symbolic death and rebirth of Dochia.

            In some parts of the country, throughout March, the "martisor" was worn on the wrist. After that the girls, before sunrise,  would tie the "martisor" to a tree, with the belief that all their wishes would come true.

            One thing is for sure: Romanians were the first nation to have this custom, after which other countries in the area of the Carpathian Mountains adopted it.

            Archeological sites in Romania revealed the presence of ancient "martisors" dating back to 8000 years ago, which were actually small river rocks painted in white and blue and then tied together with a string and worn around the neck. The red colour given by fire, blood and the Sun symbolises life and it was attributed to women. On the other hand, white symbolises the clarity of water and white of snow, specific to the wisdom of men. The string symbolises the tie between man and woman, the colours are used even today for the "martisor".

According  to the ancient charts, the first of March was considered to be the beginning of a new year, because this month had the name of the god Mars , the guardian of fields and flocks, god who simbolises the rebirth of nature.

            The ancient „Traci” attributed the same role to the god "Marsyas Silen" ,considered the inventor of the whistle, the feasts of spring and flowers were consacrated to him.

            At the beginning, the 'martisor" was a talisman, then a jewel and in our days a "merchandise" of merchants. The feast of the "martisor" takes its name from the month which begins on that day."Martisoarele" are worn for 9 days, sometimes up to 12 months. Some young girls wore them until the end of March, when they tied the string to a rose.The coin was given for wine, white bread and milk. It was believed that in this way a girl would have a face as white as milk and fine like the rose - queen of all flowers.

            In old times women and girls wore "martisoare" until the first of May at the feast of "Arminden", when they bought red wine which they drunk at the shade of the trees, on green grass,together with those who gave them the "martisor".


                        "The "martisor" and  Romania


            The tradition of the "martisor" dates back from old times and it is in fact the holiday at the beginning of spring. It is said that the "martisor" given in the morning of the first day of March was worn until the first  blossomed tree was seen. Then it was hanged on the trees branches.So the one that wore the "martisor" would have a good year.In fact it is said so.We don’t know if this thing has ever come true.

            In the old ages the "martisor" was made of gold, which symbolises wealth hanged on a string of silk made of red and white  threads, symbolising a face as white as a flower and as red as a rose.

            Meanwhile here is some history of this Romanian tradition. Even if now, all over the country, the "martisoare" are represented through all kinds of images tied with a string made of two colours (red and white), which we wear on our chest, our grandparents marked the arrival of spring in another way. Like other feasts, the traditions of the "martisor" differs from one region to another.

            For example, in Bihor people collected the rain water on the first day of March or in the days of the so called "old women"-the days from the 1st of March to the 9th of March.They believed that this water would make them more beautiful and healthier.

            In the same way, the girls from Banat, went into the woods and gathered the drops of early-morning rain or snow from the leaves of the trees to wash their faces. While they washed their faces, they spoke the verses of the "dragobete" about love: "Flower of (fraga) /Of the month of March/To be loved by everyone."

            Here is what happens in Dobrogea . Just like in some areas the "martisor" was worn until the first blossomed tree was seen, here the superstition persists.The inhabitants of Dobrogea wore it until the coming of the birds, then they threw it in the sky thinking that their luck would be great.

            In Transilvania, people from the villages hanged the "martisor" made of threads of red and white wool on their gates, windows, the horns of their animals and the buckets.Why did they do this? Because in this way, they said, they removed all curses, evil spirits and celebrated life, the regenerating power.

            In Muntenia, where the "martisoare" are worn by children, young girls and wives. There was an old saying: "who wears the <martisor> is no longer burned by the Sun."

            And in order not to forget something , in Moldova, the girls made "martisoare" and offered them to their love, tradition that is still in use nowadays in some areas, especially in Bucovina.

            The techinique of creating the "martisor" contained a whole ritual. It was actually calculated so that the size of it was made according to the size of the house gate, door and window-frame, so that it could fit perfectly.The talisman would protect the gate, the door and the windows, actually the whole house .

            On the other hand we prefer to buy the "martisoare" from stands or shops and we wait to give them to our loved ones, both men and women, because, among us, nobody minds if we buy one to our boyfriend or our father. After all, the "martisor is a symbol of spring and spring doesn't just come for women, but also for men. 

Ana Pica

Constantin Noica High School, Sibiu - Romania