THE ROMANIAN TRADITION OF THE “MARTISOR”
“Martisor” was a present that Romanians sent to each other on the first day of March, traditionally a gold coin suspended on a white-and-red braided thread with a silk tassel. The recipient used to wear it around his neck until he would see a blooming rose and the present was then placed on its branch; in this way Spring was poetically welcomed. The coin symbolized prosperity, the white-and-red thread, a metaphor of a person’s face white as a lily and rosy as a rose.
In the villages of Transilvania, the red-and-white wool yarn Martisor was pinned on gates, windows, sheepfolds, tied around the horns of cattle to protect from the evil eye and malefic spirits; it was believed that the red „color of life” represents vitality and regeneration.
In the folk tradition of the Carpathian mountain villages the Martisor was known as Drogobete, that time of the year when young women used to wash their face in „snow water” for getting „clean, pretty and white as the snow”.
In Bihor folk people believed that the rain water collected on March 1, and during the nine days of the Babe would make one handsome and healthy, while in Banat it was customary for young women to gather snow or water from wild berry leaves and wash their face with it spelling the magic words of the Drogobete for love:
„Wild berry flower of March/ make me dear to everyone/ send away from me any harm„.
THE LEGEND OF THE MARTISOR Another legend connects Martisor and “baba Dochia”, another belief of the beginning of spring. Legend says that Baba Dochia had a step daughter he hated so much and was submitted to all sorts of labor. Once “Baba Dochia” sent her to wash an old waistcoat to the river, in the dead of winter. She was supposed to wash the waistcoat until it became white. But as she washed it, the waistcoat became more black. Her saving came from a man named Martisor, who gave her a white and red flower to put on her hair. Immediately, the waistcoat became white, to astonishment and anger of “baba Dochia”, the old woman.
Seeing the flower, “baba Dochia” thought spring came and went with the sheep on the mountain. Because it was warm, Dochia has started to take off the waistcoats (9 in number). Finally the weather broke and it started to snow again. On the top of the mountain was shown Martisor, who said, „do you see how bad it is to sit in cold and wet? do you see how hard it was for your daughter to wash the waistcoat in the dead of winter?