If you happen to come to Romania on the first day of March, you will see women wearing a tiny little “toy”, tied up with a cute white and red yarn ribbon, on their coats . This toy is called “Martisor" and here's the history behind these trinkets.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on March 14, 2010. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
Mărţişor is a beautiful celebration of spring in my country. It goes back to ancient times, when men went to war in the springtime, and women gave them an amulet to protect them in battle.
The celebration seems to be based on the Roman calendar, which started the new year on March 1. The Romanian nationality was formed by the union of the Romans and the Dacs and that is why they celebrated the New Year at the beginning of spring like the Romans did, up until the 18th century. Mars was a god for both fertility and war, and March was his month. The double yarn was choose as a dual symbol to celebrate him: the white represented peace and fertility, while the red represented war.
Some very old amulets (about 8,000 years old) were also found when digging on an archeological site in our country. They were little rocks painted in white and red.
We have a few fairy tales about the fight between right and wrong, symbolized by winter and spring seasons. Right always wins, but with a blood sacrifice. That is why the yarn colors are red and white.
The talisman begins with white and red yarn, then a small amulet is added to the gift. Sometimes it is a small gold coin, meant to protect the loved one from all bad things. It is worn around the neck suspended on the white and red yarn.
The amulet was called "Mărţişor" (pronounced "mirtzyshore"), and derives from the Romanian name "Martie," meaning the month of March . It means a small gift for March (Martie) 1 and thus it took the name of the month, as in "little Marches".
Nowadays , the amulet (Mărţişor) is usually a little toy representing a flower, an animal, a thing or a human figure. Common examples include snowdrops, puppies, cats, butterflies, or horseshoes, clover leaves, or even chimney sweepers - whatever is thought to bring luck. It represents a symbol of love and spring, and a boy gives one "Mărţişor" to the girl he loves; she wears it until March 8, then hangs it in a tree to bring prosperity to her home. A bouquet of snowdrops can be also a nice gift for this celebration.
Usually, the Martisors are made by artisans and craftsmen, who sell them in special places on the street.
Some of the crafts are made of wood, others are made from artificial flowers.
Some are made of dried flowers encased in plastic.
Fabric is frequently used in creating amulets, as are feathers, shells, ceramic and metal.
The yarn has different shapes too, but it always uses the red and white colors. Often the yarn is silk, twisted together, each ending with a tassel. The yarn is tied to the amulet (Mărţişor) through a small circle attached for hanging, then a ribbon is made.
I like the handcrafted Martisors best, but many are commercially produced from industrial materials such as plastic or iron.
Some are more like brooches and are made like jewelery - more expensive, but very much appreciated.
The amulets are usually pinned on a card and put in an envelope before given as a gift.
When we were children, not only did the boys gave "Mărţişoare" to the girls, but the girls also exchanged amulets among themslves. All the girls in our classroom took this celebration very seriously and enjoyed it very much. We all spent a lot of time arranging each "Mărţişor" on a little piece of paper shaped like a big, fat number 1. We used to write a beautiful thought like, "Lots of luck and joy!" and drew a snowdrop on the number 1 shaped card. Then we pinned the "Mărţişor" on the card and put it in an envelope with each girl's name on it. We even made our own envelopes for the little cards.The "Mărţişor" has to be fixed with a needle on the coat, right on the heart when worn. In school, we used to pin all the amulets we've been receiving on our uniform, which was hilarious. But we always saved one to pin on the coat too.
Every year, we set out to select our "Mărţişoare" before the end of February. Sometimes the weather doesn't cooperate and we encounter a bad snowstorm, or it's raining, but no matter what the weather, Romanian people will buy "Mărţişoare" for giving to the ones they love. I still have all the "Mărţişoare"which I have received from my husband and son over many years; they hold very dear memories for me.
Here is my teddy bear which gives a big noisy smoochy and says "I love you!"
Since we missed the official date this year, I will share it with you all to be your "Mărţişor."