The custom of Martisor

A little bit of history

Many ancient cultures started their New Year around the 1st of March (Persian, Roman, Greek, Dacian – our ancestors, etc.). It is the time of great rejoice for the people. It’s the time of the year when Winter is fought off by Spring.

The name of the custom, Martisor comes from the ancient god of the Dacian people called Mithra (the name is Persian, the actual Dacian name didn’t survive the time). Mythra was the god of armies and nature (similar to Mars at Romans – actually most of the first Indo-European tribes had similar deities). It was considered the keeper of vows and the bound maker – a connection between the people and nature.

The rough translation of Mithra is The Undefeated Sun (it is believed that this god was born around the winter solstice (the 25th of December – the exact time when Christianity has one of the most important celebrations of the year). Sometimes it is associated with Spring.

The legend

It is said that during a harsh winter everything froze and no flowers had the courage to bloom. Only a small Snowdrop had the power to grow, but unfortunately it grew in a thorn bush. Winter was very upset and decided to freeze the small flower over the night.

Spring (Mithra) seeing that the fragile flower was dying, tried to cover it with it’s hands to protect it from the cold. In the morning, when Spring uncovered the snowdrop, it’s hands were scratched by the thorns in which the snowdrop grew. The small flower thanked Spring for its protection and swore to forever announce the coming of Spring.

In this way it is believed that the blood that fell from the wounds of Spring, combined with the white of the snow are the symbol of this period of the year.

So, the first Martisor was a red and white string, or pebble associated whit snowdrops. The first archeological evidence of this tradition is dated to be around 8000 years old.


Nowadays tradition

Today, some of the symbolism is lost, but men still offer Martisor to women at the beginning of spring (usually around the 1st of March). It is composed of a small token that may vary (flower symbol, horse shoe, bird symbol, butterflies, etc.), but the white and red symbol (usually a intertwined string) is always present as a reminder of the protection of Spring.

In some rural parts of the country, unmarried girls get a Martisor as a gift from their betrothed. They wear it on their clothing until the end of the month of Mithra (March). This is a sequel to the Dragobete custom; it’s part of a complex calendar of courtship. The actual white and red string connects with the ancient belief that Mithra was also the bearer of ties and vows.

At the end of the month, the girl ties the white and red string on the flowering fruit tree. It is believed that if the tree bears fruit it is a good omen to marry the betrothed in autumn.

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