Spring is on the horizon and in our household we feel the urge to get outside and be one with the world again. Obviously with a pandemic raging there is still a need to be careful but March 1st is the traditional start of spring in Romania. This is custom is known as Mărțișor.
The word Mărțișor is the diminutive of Marț, the old name for March (martie, in modern Romanian), and thus literally means "little March". It is customary to give red and white string with hanging tassel on the 1st day of March to significant women in your life (daughter, sister, wife, teachers, godmother, etc).
Traditions vary but for many it is believed that the wearer will be strong and healthy for the year to come. It is also a symbol of the coming spring. In modern times both women and men wear it pinned to their clothes, close to the heart, until the last day of March. In parts of the Moldova region it is tradition to then tie it to a fruit-tree twig on March 30th.
The first nine days of March are called Babele in Romania. Besides being a rather funny custom, this is also an important local tradition. In this period, the women must pick a day from one to nine (pick a baba) to find out how the coming year will be. If the chosen day is sunny and bright, that means that the year will be happy and wealthy. On the other hand, if the day is rainy and cold, the year will come with tears, sorrow, and poverty. (Ana picked "2" this year so fingers crossed tomorrow is nice.)
According to the legend this is associated with the story of Baba Dochia who decided to take her heard of sheep up the mountain as she thought spring had come. During the trip, the sun comes out and she takes off her layers, one by one, until she remains without any protection. Tragically, the weather suddenly changes and she freezes. Her death on March 9 represents the passing between the cold season and the warm one.
Every year on March 9, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Forty Martyrs (commonly known as mucenici): these were Roman soldiers who lived in the time of Emperor Licinius (308-324), a persecutor of Christians. They were tortured and executed in Sebaste (present-day Turkey) because they refused to apostatize their Christian belief.
This celebration coincides with the start of the agricultural year. While not common in my wife’s regions some parts of Romania will “beat up the ground” by slamming wooden mallets to drive out the cold and unleash the warmth.
She did grow up baking a special dessert for this day however, called mucenici (or sfintisori aka "little saints"). The desserts are made in the shape of figure 8, which some say denotes a stylized human form of the martyrs themselves. There are several variations of this desert depending on the region.
Images below courtesy of thebossykitchen.com as we have not made them yet this year.