Breaking News: Mărţişor Declares a State of Spring
There was once a Roman offspring
On Momma Dochia’s braided string.
Handsome and news-some,
Stuck to the ladies’ bosom,
Love, luck and much fun he always did bring!
If there’s a Romanian tradition to fully deserve an Irish limerick, that’d be the mărţişor! Because of its fine blend of clover-level luck and a spirit of merriment in the month of St Patrick, i.e. March.
On Thracian edge-of-the-Empire territory, i.e. nowadays Romania, the tradition understandably and predictably saw some additions or alterations: the talisman became a coin hanging on a bicolour (red-and-white) string interwoven, 365 times by a local deity called Baba Dochia, as legend has it, and the gift was given not so much by parents to children as by men/boys to women/girls. (Except for Bucovina, in northern Romania, where it is women who give the little gifts to men.)
The symbolism, however, has always been the same: a whole 365-day year has gone by, Spring has come once again, so let’s celebrate it in red (the colour of fire, blood, Life) and white (for renewal, clarity and wisdom). With the proviso that during Ceauşescu’s impoverishing regime many Romanians took to handcrafting mărţişoare as a way of making a bit of extra money, so the little Spring talismans are, to some of us, mementos of solidarity and survival in times of need and want...
Mărţişoare, nowadays given as gifts by men to women and worn by the latter between the 1st and 9th of March at the lapel of their shirts or jackets, come in many shapes, the most popular of which are: the horseshoe, the chimneysweeper (both great bearers of good luck), zodiac signs, cute animals and the arch-symbol of Spring, i.e. the snowdrop. Besides these, on the many mărţişoare stands set up around Romanian cities these days, you will find a massive array of little artefacts, beautiful and original pendant-, bracelet- or brooch-like mărţişoare.
Whichever you choose to buy, eventually, do get one for each significant female friend, colleague or acquaintance. The little thing, amazingly, still brings quite a bit of joy!
P.S.: If you receive a mărţişor, once you’ve worn it tie it to the branch of a blossoming tree and make a wish. Tradition says the wish is bound to come true!
P.P.S.: Since the tradition is shared by Romanians and Aromanians, mărţişoare are also given/received in Bulgaria (where they’re called martenitsi) Albania, Macedonia and, some say, regional Italy.
P.P.P.S.: As of 2017, Mărţişor "was included by UNESCO on its intangible cultural heritage of humanity list".
International House Bucharest, through its Romanian Language Department, runs Romanian courses and cultural integration workshops for foreigners living in Romania. For more information, click here. To enrol, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.