March comes in like a lion

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So far winter has been quite mild across Canada. We got used to the changes and warmer weather and every time the weatherman announced any sort of warning or weather watch, I cringed a little! The start of the first week of March falls under one of those categories. They’re expecting 15-25cm to fall by tomorrow afternoon. And, if you do drive, you would agree with me that it seems that people forget how to drive as soon as you throw in some snow or rain with the ‘regular commute’.

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martisorOn another note, today marks the begining of Spring in Romania and Moldova and it is celebrated with Mărțișor (Romanian pronunciation: [mərt͡siˈʃor]). Similar traditions can be found in the neighbouring country, Bulgaria, (see Martenitsa), and in further countries like Albania and Italy. The day’s name is the diminutive of the word ‘March’ (‘Martie’ in Romanian), and therefore means something like “little March”.

Although the beginning of Mărțișor remains a mystery, it is believed that it originated in ancient Rome. At the time, New Year’s Eve was celebrated on the first day of March (Martius) and the whole month was considered to be dedicated to the war God, Mars. Throughout his existence as a God, he held a double role – he was both the protector of agriculture and of war – and the celebration signified the rebirth of nature. The dual symbol is further expressed in the colors of the Mărţişor. White and Red symbolize peace and war, but it might also represent Winter and Spring.

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Ever since I can remember, during February, my dad (and few of his friends) used to take out from storage a box full of loose arts and crafts items (beads and buttons of all sizes and colors, feathers, sea shells, colorful strings, etc) and he would spend days gluing them together into different shapes and forms. He would then position them on a little piece of cardboard and cover them in protective plastic. My favorite ones were the little girls with feather dresses. A red and white string was stapled to the corner of the cardboard. After, he would would pack them nicely in boxes and sell them downtown, at the street market.

 

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snow drops
There are few legends that further explain the meaning of this beautiful tradition. One that I can remember says that once in a fight with the Winter witch, who didn’t want to give up its place, the beautiful lady Spring cut her pinky finger and a few drops of her blood fell on the snow, which then melted. Soon after, in the same place, a snowdrop grew. And in this way, it is believed that lady Spring won over the Winter witch. Snow drops are also a symbol of Spring’s arrival.

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Then and now, men offer women a talisman object also called Mărţişor, consisting of a jewel or a small decoration like a flower, an animal or a heart, tied to a red and white string. Symbolic brooches are also popular to offer. A woman wears it pinned to her blouse on this day and up to two weeks after. Women also offer it to other women and occasionally to men. It is believed that the one who wears the red and white string would be powerful and healthy for the year to come. The tradition goes back to Dacian times (Romanians’ ancestors). It was previously called “dachia dragobete” which signified the end of winter (“dragobete” is now celebrated on February 24th). The talisman could only be made during the winter months and worn after March 1st. In earlier times, the Dacians would hang little coins from a thin, twisted black and white wool rope. The coin type – gold, silver, or metal – dictated the individual’s social status or wealth. The ropes stood for the arrival of spring, warmth, and regeneration (white), while intertwined with the constant presence of winter, cold, and death (black). They were worn on the wrist or pinned over the heart. Many wore the pins until trees began to bloom, hanging the amulets in the tree branches after that the pins lost their talisman properties and became symbols of love. The black ropes were eventually replaced with red, possibly influenced by the Valentine practice of the Western world. The delicate wool ropes are still a “cottage industry” among the country people today. They still comb out the wool, dye the floss, and twist it into thousands of tassels. In certain areas the amulets are still made with black and white ropes – for warding off Evil.

 

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