1st of March in South-Eastern Europe is a very special day. Walking on the streets of Bucharest, Sofia or Tirana, Transylvania or Moldavia one can see artists displaying little amulets hanging from a twisted white and red thread, sold to be worn as spring catchers and protectors from the bad spirits and bad luck. Called “martisor” in Romania or “martenitsa” in Bulgaria, on the 1st of March the world spins around them and this is happening for the last 8,000 years.
March 1st is the first day of spring, the beginning of the new year, a season when the nature starts to wake up and reborn itself from the long winter hibernation. Days begin to be longer and the sun starts to shine more daring. At the same time winter does not want to leave: cold winds may break the sun spells, clouds may drop some snow and freezing cold may want to bite some more.
In fact this instability that the ancient man has noticed as a threat and often as a fight between 2 seasons caused the birth of a tradition where the comfort zone was granted by an amulet: two threads of wool, a white one (symbolizing the winter, the dark, the death) and a red one (symbolizing the spring, the light, the life) are torsioned in a sort of infinite fight.
As at any end of a cycle (like now when the old year dies out and tries to reborn again as the new year) the belief was that in these days the demons are wondering freely. Tight in the shape of a bracelet, it was put on the wrist of family members, babies, the large animals of the house, to the handle of the bucket used to pull out water from the well, to the house or stable doors to be protected by the evil and the “bad eye”. As you can see there is a lot of magic involved with circles and nodes.
The bracelet is worn until the person sees the first spring sign: a crane or a tree in blossom, takes off the bracelet, ties it to the tree and makes a wish. At this point, she or he has the certitude that spring is here to stay and does not need any further protection. In fact there is an exchange of energies between the person who gives away his/her precious amulet and the blossom tree who offers its perfume, beauty and vigor.
Later on in the XVIII-th and the XIX-th centuries the “martisor” whitte-red wool bracelet gets attached to a silver coin. Once this tradition enters the cities in the early 1900s the silver coin is replaced by a little symbol of spring: a shamrock, a smoke horn cleaner, a snow drop flower etc.
The artists use their creativity to launch every year new models of “martisor”.
In Romania these amulets are given by men to women, in north-eastern part of Romania, in Moldova girls give them to boys, in Bulgaria and northern Greece everybody gives everyone.
Living abroad makes the artists’ offer unavailable, so I often go back to the roots and build my own “spring catchers” by twisting two threads of white and red wool. I find the home-made bracelets more personal and when offered they are enhancing the positive energy involved in the tradition.
In addition to the “martisor” in Romania people are choosing one day between the 1st and the 8th of March. This day is called “baba” (‘old woman’) recalling an ancient legend of the Dacian king’s daughter Dochia who ran away from the Roman Emperor Trajan, not willing to be taken to Rome as a trophy of Rome’s victory and conquest of the province of Dacia (101-102 AC, 105-106 AC). Dochia escapes in the mountains around the 1st of March dressed up in 8 coats of furs. The sun was shining every day more and more making her to drop each day a fur coat. On the 8th day, without knowing that the Emperor himself was on her footsteps, Dochia takes off the last coat and just before Trajan catches her, a cold winter wind turns her into a rock in the shape of an old woman (“baba” – in Romanian).
Practically people are choosing their “baba” day. The weather on that day will tell how the rest of the year will look like: if there’s going to be sun shine that predicts only good news, happiness, richness. If say the second part of the day witnesses rain, the second part of the year will be dotted with bad news or events. In our modern days cheating with a weather app is not allowed.