The ancient custom of March 1 with white and red threads lives on in the Balkans

The ancient custom of March 1 with white and red threads lives on in the Balkans

On the first of March, an old custom is revived that is lost in the depths of the centuries and has a significant spread in the Balkan Peninsula.

The red and white rope or threads are worn from March 1, in Greece as Martis, in Bulgaria as Martenitsa, in Romania as Martisor, in North Macedonia as Martinka, in Albania as Verore and in Cyprus as Martui, for good luck, health but and for protection from the evil eye and of course from the spring sun.

The custom is believed to have its roots in Ancient Greece, and specifically in the Eleusinian Mysteries. The mystics of the Eleusinian Mysteries tied a thread, the Crocus, to their right hand and their left foot.

In Greece from the 1st to the 31st of March, children wear on their wrist a bracelet, made of twisted white and red thread, called Martis or Martia. According to popular tradition, Martis protects the faces of children from the first sunrays of Spring, so that they do not burn. They make it on the last day of February and wear it on the first day of March, before leaving the house.

In some areas, Matis is worn on the big toe like a ring so that its holder does not stumble. They take out this bracelet at the end of the month, or leave it on the roses when they see the first martin, so that the birds can take it and build their nest.

The custom of Martis is celebrated the same and unchanged in North Macedonia under the name Martinka and in Albania as Verore. The inhabitants wear bracelets made of red and white thread so that the sun does not “catch” them, which they take off at the end of the month or when they see the first martin. Still others tie the thread to a fruit tree to give it a bloom, while some place it under a stone and if the next day they find a worm next to it, it means that the rest of the year will be very good.

Following the traditions and customs of centuries, the Bulgarians, on the first day of March, wear on their lapel ornaments made of white and red threads called Martenitsa. In some parts of Bulgaria, residents place a piece of red cloth outside their homes to prevent them from being “burned by Grandma Martha”, which is the feminine personification of the month of March. Martenitsa functions in the consciousness of the Bulgarian people as an amulet, which in fact is usually offered as a gift among family members, accompanied by wishes for health and prosperity.

A Bulgarian tradition of the early 20th century connects the first Martenitsa with the 7th century battle of Ongal between the Bulgarian Hanos Asparuh and the Byzantines, which led to a decisive victory of Bulgaria. After the battle, Asparuch sent pigeons with white threads to announce victory to his camp. The threads turned red from the blood during the flight, thus creating the first Martenitsa.

The white and red ornament of March 1 is called Marcissor in Romanian. The red thread symbolizes the love for the beautiful and the white the purity of the plant Galanthus reginae olgae, which blooms in March and is closely connected with several customs and traditions of Romania. According to mythology, the god Sun transformed into a young man and descended to Earth to take part in a celebration. However, he was abducted by a dragon, as a result of which the world was lost and plunged into darkness. One day, a young man and his companions killed the dragon and released the Sun, bringing spring. The young man lost his life and his blood – the legend goes – painted the snow red. Since then, on March 1, it is customary for all young people to knit “Martisor”, with red thread symbolizing the young man’s blood and love for sacrifice and white symbolizing purity./ibna