Traditions01 March 2017

Martisor- ancestral Romanian traditions that will live forever

Baba Dochia's Days or the rebirth of the world

Martisor

Martisor

Martisor is an ancestral ritual object that was given since the oldest times, on March 1, considered to be Dochia's Day. In the beginning, martisor was none other than a small piece of rope, some mesh of black and white threads representing the alternation of good days and bad days in man's life.

Then, in time, the thread became red, a sign of affection and of love. Until the beginning of the 20th century these ribbons were given to children, boys and girls, and they were often accompanied by a small gold or silver coin. The apotropaic function of the object emerges therefore very clearly, ''acting'' just like a talisman, keeping its ''beneficiary'' out of harm's way and attracting luck and good fortune.

Martisor was worn until the next most important holy day (Mucenici (40 Martyrs of Sebaste), Florii (Palm Sunday), Paște (Easter) and so on), warding off the evil spirits for the person who wore it, it being well known that whenever there is a change in the climate regime (and we are dealing, in this case, with one of the most important and dramatic moments of the whole year and most likely, in the past, the real New Year's: winter departure and spring arrival), in the collective imagination, good and evil cosmic forces battle and man actively steps in to help the good forces.

The thread then would be hung on trees, shrubs and the like, being invested with this lucky-charm function for the person that wore it. Today martisor is rather a sign of love, but all its other perquisites were forgotten. When I say ''rather'', I mean martisor nowadays no longer carries (just) the symbols of love, like it used to. There are martisor with cars, with robot or cartoon characters, with movie stars or other stars, everything, in order to sell, to sell as much as possible.

Not all the symbols though are for sale, or let themselves be sold. One such symbol is the famous Baba Dochia. Some ethnologists say that it actually goes as far back as the Proto-Romanian period. The character has its origins somewhere in the matriarchy times on these lands, because it is the only time interval dedicated to... old ladies.

One of the legends of Baba Dochia only comes to confirm this hypothesis: The story has it Baba Dochia was a mean mother-in-law who sent one of her daughters-in-law to pick wild strawberries, in winter. The daughter-in-law prayed to the Virgin Mary and, by virtue of the love that she felt for Her, the weather cleared up suddenly and the persecuted daughter-in-law could pick wild strawberries. The mother-in-law thought summer came; she took off her sheepskin coats and headed for the mountains, with the sheep.

But winter came back, and the mean mother-in-law froze. Here we are, therefore, dealing with an etiological legend that explains why the first days of the month of March are called the “Old Lady's Days” and why they are so capricious, alternating very warm days with cold days, snowfalls and bad weather. As tradition goes, it is a good thing to choose a baba (Old Lady Day) within this time interval (March 1 - 9) and your whole year will be exactly like that day (beautiful or, quite the opposite, bad weather).

Gheorghe Sechesan

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