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I returned to Bucharest from my 15-day visit to India on the the first of March. The next day as I was walking to office, something was different. The flower shops were livelier than usual. The Mall was buzzing with a lot of small vendors, selling red and white trinkets with flashy boards. I thought these were because of some sort of sale and just passed by them.
Then when I reached office, I saw more such flowers, chocolates and trinkets. The men were greeting the women and handing them flowers, trinkets, chocolates and what not. Now the Romanians can’t start their day without a greeting and a handshake and I was just about getting used to the Bună dimineața (pronounced di-mi-neatsa) handshake tradition, but this was quite new.
The quizzical look on my face apparently wasn’t obvious to my colleagues and finally I asked one of them - what’s special about the day? That’s when I was told it’s Mărțișor.
Mărțișor is the celebration of beginning of spring, usually on the first week of March. There’s a nice write up on Mărțișor here
Mărțișor is an old tradition celebrated all over Romania every year, on March 1st. The name Mărțișor is a diminutive of March (Martie in Romanian).
It is believed that the person who wears the red and white string would enjoy a prosperous and healthy year.
In eastern Romania ( Moldova and Bucovina), the red and white string was complemented with a small - gold or silver - coin. After wearing the coin for twelve days, the women would buy fresh cheese with it hopping that their skin would be healthy and beautiful the entire year.
In the old times, Mărțișor were made of small river pebbles, colored in white and red, stringed on a thread and worn around the neck. They were worn, to bring good luck and good weather, from March 1 until the first trees would bloom. When the first trees were flowering the Mărțișor were hanged on tree branches.
Nowadays, on March 1, Romanians buy silky red-white threads (șnur) tied into a bow to which a small trinket is attached and offer them to their (female) family members, friends and colleagues to show friendship, respect or admiration.
The irony is that one of Bucharest’s first clusters of COVID-19 spread was believed to have traced from a person who was giving the trinkets to his colleagues.
On that sombre note, stay safe.