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Saturday, 1 March 2014

The Year's Rope

Dear friends,

I dunno if your country has any traditions related to this day but my homeland does. On the 1st of March, each year, we celebrate the "Mărțișor". Like Iceland celebrates Beer Day as in 1989 on that day they marked the end of prohibition, the Romanian people focus on the artistic points of the day, celebrating the life, the rebirth! In order to explain better the tradition, I shall first tell you a few lines about its history, taken from the wonderful online resource called Wikipedia ;) After that I shall tell you some of my stories related to this beautiful day that stays very dear in my memory.
Mărțișor (Romanian pronunciation: [mərtsiʃor]) is an old Romanian celebration at the beginning of spring, on March the 1st, which according to old calendar was also considered as the beginning of the new year. Symbolically, it is correlated to women and to fertility as a means of life and continuity. The tradition is authentic in Romania, Moldova, and all territories inhabited by Romanians and Aromanians. Alike though not identical customs can be found in Bulgaria (see Martenitsa), while similar ones exist in Albania, Greece 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.
Some ethnologists consider Mărțișor to have a Roman origin, while others believe it to have a Daco-Thracian origin. 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 but also 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. Not only the colours, but also the traditional silver coin hung from the thread are associated with the sun. White, the colour of silver, is also 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 also 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.
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.
My childhood is very much connected to memories of spring, of the New Year, and immediately approaching Women's Day - celebrated on the 8th of March, both in Poland and in Romania. Ever since I was a wee lass I would start - along with my sister - buying flowers and presents for my Mum and Granny since the 1st of March or even when the first snowdrops would appear or the first crocuses - I believe that is why the crocuses are one of my fav flowers by far! as they remind us that a New Year has come, that a new beginning is here and everything can happen... When I was in kindergarded and even in 1st-4th grade I would have extracurricular events - I was always fond of extracurriculars! :) A bit nerdish... We would go to the Cultural Palace For Children and create small gifts/cards handmade by us. Of course right now I beleive they looked horrific but we were proud to make that for our Mum's and Grandma's and at least that kept us occupied for a while :)
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One of Romanian traditions related to the month of March I have managed to bring in Poland as well and make my husband try it - actually I made him try it even when we were just boyfriend-girlfriend + I managed to get Magda, my civil wedding witness, to try it as well ;) And it worked for all of us! The custom states that on the 1st of March you need to tie a Mărțișor to your wrist and keep it there until the 31st of March, in the evening, when you will put the string in the nearest and dearest tree that you see in blossom ;) In the moment you do that you need to make a single wish and that wish will come true. Tell you the truth, I know this is a superstition but it is mine! :) Each time I did that, ever since I was a wee lass, it never failed. And it did not fail for my husband nor for Magda, so I can hardly wait to do this again this year ;) I just need to think of a very good wish :)

P.S. I will miss again, this year, seeing trees filled with Mărțișoare as this tradition is done only in Romania. But it is a beautiful sight to see... trees in bloom in the end of March and small strings of red-white blowing in the spring wind... Well our tree, the one we will choose, will have at least 2 and that is a start ;)

Yours truly,
A Happy LadyBug :)