24 March 2015

Mărțișor or how Romanians celebrate the beginning of spring

The arrival of spring is packed with joy, flowers and ... loads of symbolism and mysticism. Read away to find out how Romanians construct their springish universe. 

If you are even a slightly bit like me, spring is your favorite season. 
You enjoy getting rid of all the heavy clothes, not having your nose get cold as soon as you get out of the house, not being able to sit around on a bench in a park without potentially having your fingers transformed into ice branches and not being able to feel the sun on your skin. 

What else is spring all about?  Mărțișor.

Mărțișor - diminutive of marț - literally translated as "little March" is the way Romanians mark the beginning of the season. 
It basically represents a red and white string, on which small decorations can be tied, offered by people on the 1st day of March. The string can also be black and white, or blue and white, but the most popular one, nowadays, is the red and white.

In the old days, it was believed that Mărțișor brings health and good spirit for the year to come, as a talisman of the new invigorating season. People would wear it until the very last day of the month when they would tie it to the branches of a fruit-free, in order to blossom just like the flowers. In some parts of the country, a gold or silver coin would be tied on the string, which was used to buy red wine and sweet cheese in order to have all year long skin just as white as the cheese and ruddy as the red wine.  Nowadays, Mărțișor has become more of a symbol of friendship used to express love, appreciation and respect.

If you are wondering where the whole Mărțișor thing came from, well, some ethnologies consider Mărțișor to have a Roman origin, as New Year's Eve was celebrated on the 1st of March in Ancient Rome, while others believe it has a Daco-Thracian origin. But all attest the connection between this celebration and the spring, as a renewed season regarding land, vegetation and fertility.
Initially, the Mărțișor used to be called the Year's Rope and it was made of black and white wool threads, representing the 365 days of the year. It was considered the link between summer and winter, light and dark, warm and cold, life and death, marking the beginning of a new season.
The red thread represents vitality, blood and life while white is the colour of snow, clouds and winter.
 In some interpretations, Mărțișor represents the union between feminine and masculine, passion and vitality, presented in many customs of the Romanian folklore.

Aside from the consumerist side that this holiday might have accumulated along the years, for me Mărțișor will always remain that symbol that pushes me to start feeling better about life, to enjoy the simple pleasures, smells the tulips that start rallied up on flower shops and start smiling more at people while walking down the street. It also reminds me of the happier days of an immortal childhood.