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Friday, 9 March 2018

The 40 Martyrs in Romanian Tradition

Dearest sweethearts,

In Romania we start the celebration of Spring from the 1st of March. Actually between the 1st of March and 9th or March we skip from one celebration to another. Starting the first day of March people wear the lovely white & red string called "Martisor"; that leads up to the 8th of March that is Women's Day and Mother's Day all in one. Some countries try to make it up to men and celebrate Men's Day on the 9th but in Romania we have the "40 de Mucenici" ("40 Martyrs Day"). Also during the first 9 days of March we celebrate "Babele" ("The Old Ladies") - everyone picks a day between the 1st and 9th of March and depending on how the weather faires that day, that's how your whole year round will be. Usually you can pick that by adding the digits to your birthday: I'm born on the 26th so my date should be 2+6=8th of March, Women's Day ;) but I always get tricky so if 8th of March doesn't have a nice weather I always switch to the 9th as a backup. Anyway... back to the "40 de Mucenici" story.
The "40 de Mucenici" (or "44 Mucenici" in some areas of the country) is a celebrated day by almost all Romanian people. It is a Christian Orthodox based celebration, when women bake 40+ small eight-shaped small dough breads. They are dipped in a sauce made out of water, honey and vanilla scent or rum. After they are dipped they are immersed or sprinkled (as per everyone's taste) into walnut dust. They taste heavenly! Especially paired up with fresh milk or cold yoghurt. In some regions also women back human shaped cakes for the family + the additional extra ones that they took to church, to give to the poor. Another tradition, for the men, is that one must drink that day 40 (or 44, depending on the region) glasses of wine. The belief is that the wine will turn into fresh blood and power you up for the next working year. When you think of the quantity, even if you take a shot glass - the smallest glass in the house, you will still realise that this day is quite a hell of a party!
When it comes to the legend behind this holiday, it always differs from one region to another. What we do know is that the "Mucenici" is a traditional holiday with deep religious background. Represented in the Orthodox calendar, this day remembers us the 40 saints of the city Sevastia that have been burned alive. Once there were soldiers serving the Roman emperor Licinius. 3 of them: Chirion, Candid and Domnos were very knowledgeable in terms of the Scripture. In 320 they refused to bow to idols and were imprisoned for 8 days by Agricolae - governor of Armenia. He was also the one that sentenced the 40 Martyrs to death by throwing them in the cold waters of Lake Sevastia. Miracles do happen so that night the lakes water warmed up, ice melted and 40 crowns came shining down on the martyrs. They were taken out alive but their bodies were burned .
Another legend (Geto-Dacian) says that in fact there were not 40 but 45 martyrs, just like the days from March 9th to April 23rd when we celebrate Saint Martyr George. One legend that I remember from my childhood was that the martyrs were caged in a big oven/furnace (makes me somehow think of Auschwitz in the means of mass torture...). 4 out of the 44 wanted to renounce their fate and die swiftly by the sword, rather then by being burned alive. That is when 4 others from outside, that saw the martyrs conduct, said they would replace them in the furnace. The story says that all 40+4 martyrs were singing songs and praising God, with crowns upon their head, without feeling the flicker of the flames. Of course superstitions also spring out around this day: if the water freezes on March 9th, will freeze 40 days in a row, but if it's sunny that means we will have fair weather ahead! So be on the lookout for the days of sun! 

Yours very much truly,
The Twisted Red Ladybug That Loves Stories and Legends and Myths