Mărțișor is a Romanian celebration at the beginning of spring, on March the 1st in Romania, Moldova, and all territories inhabited by Romanians. Alike, though not identical customs can be found in Bulgaria (Martenitsa), while similar ones exist in Albania, Greece and Italy.
The name Mărțișor is the diminutive of marț, the old folk name for March, and thus literally means “little March”. It is also the folk name for this month.
Mărțișor, marț and mărțiguș are all names for the red and white string from which a small decoration is tied, and which is offered by people on the 1st day of March. The string can also be black and white, or blue and white). Giving this talisman to people is an old custom, and it is believed that the one who wears the red and white string will be strong and healthy for the year to come. It is also a symbol of the coming spring. Usually, both women and men wear it pinned to their clothes, close to the heart, until the last day of March, when they tie it to the branches of a fruit-tree. In some regions, a gold or silver coin hangs on the string, which is worn around the neck. After wearing it for a certain period of time, they buy red wine and sweet cheese with the coin, according to a belief that their faces would remain beautiful and white as cheese, and rubicund as the red wine, for the entire year. Some ethnologists consider Mărțișor to have a Roman origin, while others believe it to have a Daco-Thracian origin.
In ancient Rome, New Year’s Eve was celebrated on March 1 – ‘Martius’, as the month was called in the honour of the god Mars. Mars was not only the god of war but also an agricultural guardian, who ensured nature’s rebirth. Therefore, the red and white colours of Mărțișor may be explained as colours of war and peace.
The Thracians also used to celebrate the New Year’s Eve on the first day of March, a month which took the name of the god Marsyas Silen, the inventor of the pipe (fluier, traditional musical instrument), whose cult was related to the land and vegetation. Thracian spring celebrations, connected to fertility and the rebirth of nature, were consecrated to him.
In some areas, Daco-Romanians still celebrate the agrarian New Year in spring, where the first days of March are considered days of a new beginning. Before March 1, women choose one day from the first nine of the month, and judging by the weather on the chosen day, they would know how the new year will go for them. Similarly, in other areas, young men find out what their wives are going to be like. The first 9 days of March are called Baba Dochia’s Days, Baba Dochia being an image of the Great Earth Goddess. The tradition says that you must pick a day from 1 to 9 March, and how the weather in that day will be, so it will be for you all year long.