Our correspondent, Mari-An C. Santos, continues her series on life as a student in Romania.
March is a beautiful month in Romania, mostly because it is the beginning of the end of winter. Yes, after more than three months of blistering cold, punctuated with snow storms that result in meters-high snow that make roads unpassable, or a crust of ice that makes them slippery, the sun starts to show its warm face again. And that thin ray of hope is enough to celebrate.
There are three events that they observe on such a month: Mărțișor, Babele, and Women’s Day.
Mărțișor is celebrated on the 1st of March, commemorating the beginning of spring. The word comes from the old name of March in Romanian. My friend, Natalia, told me a legend that she has heard since she was a little girl in the region of Moldova/Moldavia. It says that Spring was a beautiful fairy who wanted to bring warmth and sun to the earth. But the god of Frost would not allow it. So when Spring came to earth to bring forth the new season, the god of Frost engaged her in battle in order to stop her. It was a long and tedious battle, and Spring was exhausted that eventually, Frost wounded one of her fingers and blood dripped from her onto the white snow. From the place where Spring’s blood touched the snow, a beautiful snowdrop appeared. It gave Spring the power to defeat the god of Frost, and bring warmth to people, ending the cold of winter. Since then, on the first day of spring, people wear a mărțișor to commemorate the defeat of the god of Frost.
A mărțișor is also a trinket that is given to the women (generally) to wear at the onset of spring, to wish them good health. It was, initially, made up of intertwined white and red string, in reference to Spring’s blood and the cold of snow. In more modern times, anything from a simple pin or brooch to earrings and miniature symbols are attached to the mărțișor and given as a sign of friendship or love. It also symbolizes fertility. Women usually wear them pinned on their coats for the first few days of spring.
Ironically, as I spent Mărțișor in Brasov, Transylvania, it was a beautiful, sunny day that felt indeed like a promise of spring. But the very next day, it started to snow again.
Meanwhile, Babele or Baba Dochia is observed starting on the 1st of March too. My friend, Adelina, narrated the legend of Baba, an old woman who went up a mountain with her sheep. It was winter, so she was wearing nine layers of coats. But as she ascended, she felt warmer, and one by one, she took off the coats she was wearing. But when she reached the top, the weather became colder and she froze and turned to stone.
Each person chooses a day beforehand, from March 1 to 9, and however the weather on that day is, that is how your year will go. For example, if it’s sunny, then it will be a good, pleasant year; if it’s snowy, then it will be a tumultuous one.
Another related legend is about Dochia, the daughter of Decebal (king of Dacia from 87 to 106). The Roman emperor Trajan fell in love with her. As she was running away from Trajan, she hid in the Ceahlău Massif (also called the Romanian Olympus) with her sheep. There, Dochia froze along with her sheep, and turned into stone. Even today, you can see the rocks that are purported to be Dochia and her sheep, dotting the mountain’s landscape.
Now, Women’s Day is an international celebration. But the celebration in Romania is one akin to the Valentine’s Day celebration that we know. Again, as a testament to the summer that is about to come, flowers flood the shops lining the streets. Women of different ages receive flowers from family and friends—and lovers, of course. Old women also gather pussy willow branches that they sell and are also symbols of spring.
However, as of the end of March, snow still remains on the peaks not too far away from the city of Sibiu—in Balea and Paltinis. People make the most of the fact that the sun is shining to snowboard and ski. And just the other day, it snowed again. Maybe spring is not quite here yet. But March bears the hope that it will some soon enough.
Read Mari-An’s first post, Valentine’s in Sibiu, here.