The arrival of spring is celebrated all around the world, but here, in Romania, it is truly a time of celebration and hope. On every first day of March, Romanians have a custom of giving each other small tokens or talismans attached to a braid made of red and white thread. Also, they choose a day between the 1st of March and the 9th and try to find out how every year is going to be. Also, on the 9th of March there is an important Christian celebration of the 40 martyrs, when Romanians make some delicious eight shaped doughnuts, unique in Europe. As the 8th of March is considered the Women’s Day (not necessarily Mother’s Day ), the 9th is considered to be Men’s day.
Martisorul, a great Romanian custom
“Martisorul” is a small token of whatever shape or size – animals, flowers, tiny puppets or just about anything colored and nice – tided with a red and white thread. On every first day of March, as the custom goes, men give women these tokens, sometimes along with flowers like snowdrops or hyacinth (photo). The women put these small presents with a pin in their chests, attached to the blouse or sweater. They will “wear” these tokens all day.
The name Martisor is the diminutive of “mart”, the old folk name for March (Martie, in modern Romanian), and thus literally means “little March”.
Choose a “baba” and find out how this year is going to be
As the spring begins, there is another custom here in Romania which has the role of predicting the future. Just before the 1st of March people would choose a day (from 1st to 9th of March) and depending of how that day was (cloudy, windy, sunny, with snow or high temperatures) they would know how the whole year would be for them. So, if it is cloudy or it rains it means that the year will not be that good. Or if it rains in the morning and it is sunny in the afternoon, the first months of the year will not be that good but the end of the year will bring happiness. Each one of these 9 days from which you get to choose is called a baba. People use to ask – What is your baba? And this is when you say that it is on the 1st or on the 5th or on the 9th or whatever. Baba means “old lady” in Romanian. Some choose this day random, but other choose it depending on their birth date. For example, if you are born on the 4th you will choose 4th of March, if you are born on 25th you will choose the seventh day (2 + 5 =7) of March.
The legend of an old lady named Dochia who died in March
This custom of choosing your “baba” might have its roots into a very popular Romanian legend. It is said that, long ago, there was a handsome young man who fell in love and wanted to marry a beautiful girl from his village. However, his mother named Dochia didn’t approve of this girl. So, to stop the marriage, Dochia gave the girl a black ball of yarn and told her she could have her wedding only if she washed that ball of yarn in the river and bring it back home white. The girl tried as much as she could to wash the thread but, of course, there was no way of turning it white. So she started crying. Hearing her desperation, a spirit of the water came and offered the girl a red flower. It said: “Wash the thread with this flower and it will become white”. The girl returned home to Dochia with a white ball of yarn and with the flower.
The old lady saw the flower and thought that winter was over. So, on the 1st of March she went up the mountain with her sheep heard. She thought that the weather was only getting warmer, but she was wrong. The first days of March are known in the popular conception of being unpredictable. Dochia went up the mountain with nine thick coats. Every day it was warmer and warmer and every day she threw away one coat. On the tenth day she got on the top of the mountain. A blizzard started and she had no coats anymore. So she froze to death. She remained in popular conscience as a symbol of recklessness, haste and a victim of the punishment of God for being harsh with the poor girl who wanted to marry her son.
The celebration of the 40 martyrs
I do not usually write about religious celebration, but this one is really interesting because, on the 9th of March, Romanian people cook some delicious eight shaped doughnuts and make an amazing dessert made of tiny tiny eight shaped dough in a sweet soup. Here is the recipe.
These desserts are actually symbols reminding of the tragic deaths of 40 christian men. The story of the 40 martyrs starts long ago, sometime in the 4th century when 40 christian roman soldiers were captured by an Armenian governor. He wanted to convert them to his religion. But they didn’t want to so, after eight days of incarceration, they were sent to die in a frozen lake. It is said that until the morning the lake became warm and all the men were alive. Seeing that, the governor ordered to take them out, broke their legs and left them to die. So, the custom is that, in their memory, on the 9th of March, people eat these sweet doughnuts.