According to the ancient Roman calendar, March 1st was the first day of the year, in which they celebrated Mars ― the god of natural forces, spring, and agriculture.
Romanians have a very special tradition for the 1st of March, called 'martisoare'. Year after year, from this day on, they regain their optimism, faith, and hope for a brighter tomorrow. March is the time when people start looking for the very first snowdrop to shoot up from the sleepy earth of winter, as a sign of spring.
It is the time when cold weather blends with the first sun beams, when light chases away darkness, and when after a hard, snowy winter; life, spring, and sun takes over. This triumph of resurrection and regeneration is invoked by this day, which is usually celebrated with the ones who hold dear, as a sign of best wishes for them.
In the very beginning, it was symbolized by a coin. Later on, it was made of a nice pebble, colored in red and white and put on a string. Nowadays, it is made of beautifully-colored beans, ceramics, and flowers.
How did it appear?
Here's one story. One day, the sun took the human shape of a young man and came down to earth to join a local party. The young man was chased and abducted by a dragon, and then locked in a cage. All the people got very sad. The birds stopped singing, the streams ceased flowing, and children ceased laughing. Nobody dared to face the dragon.
But one day, a strongly-built young fellow decided to go and rescue the sun. Many earth people had given him their strengths, to help him defeat the monstrous creature. His journey lasted for about three seasons: summer, autumn, and winter. The brave young man found the dragon's castle, and they began the fight.
They fought for days on end until the dragon was defeated. Losing his strength, wounded, the young man still managed to release the sun. The sun rose from the earth to the sky, giving joy to the world. Nature came back to life, people rejoiced, only the young man couldn't manage to see the spring season. His wounds were dripping warm blood to the white snow.
Even his last drop of blood fell into the immaculate snow. He died. Since then, young people plait two strings ― a white one and a red one. They offer them to the girls they love or to their relatives. Red symbolizes love for beauty, whereas white symbolizes the health and purity of snowdrops of spring.
What are its origins?
The very first martisor was made of a golden or silver coin, to which two plaited strings were attached, a red one and a white one (or black and white), symbolizing life fighting over death, health over sickness, and which was generally worn by sensitive persons (children and young women). This amulet was believed to bring happiness and luck.
Many Romanian archaeological diggings proved that they have existed for over 8000 years. They were represented by small pebbles dyed in red and white, and were worn by ancient people around their necks. The color red, which is to be found in fire, sun and blood, suggests life, therefore the female principle.
The color white, reminding us of the water clarity, snow, and clouds was conferred to the male principle, to wisdom and reason. These two principles would blend together as a permanent cycle of nature.
There's a village in Maramures called Budesti, where people have been making martisoare for centuries. They are made of naturally dyed wool by children who learn from their parents and grandparents. The black and white colors represent the fertile soil which gives life, after the white snow is replaced by the spring sun. Come get a martisor from Romania!