Millions of people celebrated the official start of spring on Monday by gifting trinkets adorned with red and white thread, a pagan feast which has been enjoyed for centuries across the Balkans.
People in Romania, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, parts of Greece and Moldova all celebrate March 1 in a similar way.
In Romania, the trinkets which are called ‘martisor’ appear in shops and fairs immediately after Valentine’s Day. Traditionally they are a small handmade object with a red and white thread and are given to women who wear them throughout the month.
They are believed to ensure a safe passage from winter to spring. In recent years, ‘martisoare’ have become more creative. Many people send images of spring flowers tied with a red and white thread to female friends and acquaintances on social media.
Balkan tradition says that the March trinkets should be given as gifts starting on March 1. They are worn pinned to clothing, or around the wrist or neck until the wearer sees a stork or swallow returning from migration, or a blossoming tree, and then removes it.
Bulgarians also give the trinkets as presents and they are known as ‘martenitsa’ and also given to men. The Bulgarian version is a small adornment, made of white and red yarn and usually in the form of two dolls, a white male, representing winter and a red female, who is spring.
North Macedonia which shares cultural and historic links with Bulgaria also marks the day and calls the trinkets ‘martinka.’
In Moldova where 80% of people are of Romanian descent they also give ‘martisoare.’ The National Ethnography and Natural History Museum is currently hosting an exhibition featuring 4,000 ‘martisoare’ which will run until April 18.
The feast was included by UNESCO on its intangible cultural heritage of humanity list in 2017 “forms of expression that testify to the diversity of the intangible heritage and raise awareness of its importance.”