Sunday, March 4, 2007

Martisoare :-)


To me the 1st of March has always meant the beginning of spring and, yes, mărţişoare! Those little "symbols of spring" that we used to offer to mothers, grandmothers and teachers alike, small good-luck charms to protect us in the year to come and make us happy every day. Or at least on the day when we received them.

In the old days they used to be quite standard: flowers in a plastic tube, small pendant-like four-leaves clovers for luck, ladybugs and chimney-sweeps that you could lose in the palm of your hand or the much more stylish and sophisticated models created by the Plastic Artists' Association and available only to a select few.

Today anyone can create and sell mărţişoare and you can see the craziest models on sale in the crowded corners of the town: one-eye monsters and robots, Disney characters or seashell masterpieces. Artists take advantage of this custom to sell mărţişoare of their own making: painted ceramic pieces, embroideries, hand-made jewels and many more. The long-standing tradition has been so well assimilated into the consumer society that we even have a fair-like event in Bucharest, where you can buy presents for your loved ones on this special occasion. And they are - it breaks my heart to say it :) - just about the same kitschy presents you can buy at the Christimas, Valentine's Day and Easter fairs.

I don't know if the 1st of March has the same happy meaning to all of today as it used to have when we were kids. I know that for me any warm and pleasant day in the middle of a cold winter season makes me think suddenly of mărţişoare. To me they are a symbol of the light-hearted days of childhood, and I know the sun has to shine on every 1st of March, at least for a minute or two.




A sample generic Mărţişor is the symbol of spring and also a celebration on the first of March. Its beginnings are still a mystery, but it is usually said that it originated in Rome, because New Year's Eve was celebrated on the 1st of March, the month of the god Mars. He was the god of agriculture and signified the rebirth of nature. For the Thracians, Marsyas-Silen, whose cult was related to the vegetation and the land, had the same attributes. The flower and nature celebrations were consecrated to him.
It is said that the Mărţişor originated from the Ancient Roman culture, where March (Martius) was the month of the war god Mars with a double role: both protector of agriculture and of war. This duality of symbols is kept in the colours of the Mărţişor: white and red, meaning peace and war (it might also symbolize winter and spring). This custom can be found in all areas where Romanians live. Bulgarians also have an almost identical tradition on the 1 March, called "Martenitsa".

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