Transatlantic Rites of the New Beginnings / Geographies of Tradition
SPRING COMING CELEBRATIONS IN ROMANIA AND THE UNITED STATES
No matter how different we are from each other, no matter how different the cultures we come from are, our emotions and feelings spring from the same “groundwater”. And just as through a smile we all understand openness, human warmth or joy, so we associate the coming of spring with the rebirth of nature or the explosion of life. However, its ways of expression vary: therein lies the beauty of cultural diversity.
One spring, thousands of ways to celebrate it.
For Americans, spring comes with the vernal equinox. For Romanians, however, spring comes with Mărțișor. Specifically, with the special day that is March 1st.
But what exactly is Mărțișor? Well, this word refers to two things: to the cultural custom widespread in Romania on the occasion of the 1st of March, and to the object around which this custom was constructed.
An element of intangible cultural heritage, Mărţişor can be considered a national or, at least, regional brand. It was recorded by UNESCO, in 2017, as belonging to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, following the candidacy of a multinational dossier (Cultural Practices Associated with the 1st of March - Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, the Republic of Moldova).
Mărțișor is an old custom spread throughout all of Romanian territory, and practiced in other areas of southeastern Europe. This habit has a double affective meaning: on one hand, you share the joy of the beginning of spring and, on the other hand, you communicate affection for the person to whom you give this object.
To express these things, Romanians usually give each other a Mărțișor on March 1st. For many years now, it has been established that boys and men express love or appreciation for their special someone through this sentimental object. There is also the more profane custom, so to speak, more out of social conformity, of giving a Mărțișor: a co-worker may distribute a Mărțișor to each of his female colleagues. So might a student to his classmates and, obviously, to his favorite teachers.
The history of Mărțișor, in short
As an object, the Mărțișor has its own history. At one point, the custom of wearing or giving a Mărțișor on March 1st moved from village to town. Around 1800, townspeople felt the desire to attach a coin to the ancient white-red string and to write the year they were in on one of its faces: 1801, 1802, 1803...In time, the Mărțișor would take on new and newer shapes: a gold keychain, a silver or double from which various symbols of luck hang – a piglet, a chimney sweep, four-leaf clover, a playing card, a dice. Later, living hearts, inflamed with love, will feel the need to express themselves: the famous hearts appear, with variable textures or sizes. During the communist period, Romanians gave each Mărțișors made at the national Arts&Crafts Fund: all kinds of flowers made of textile material, packed in transparent boxes.
As we can see, Mărțișor completely loses its magical connotations, being completely absorbed by Eros. We currently encounter two parallel social phenomena: on one hand, in consumer society, around March 1st, any object can be sold under the pretext of being a Mărțișor. On the other hand, in terms of Mărțișors that still bear a resemblance to the “traditional Mărțișor”, we see a wonderful variety that can only make us happy.
They are the expression of human creativity and spontaneity, and satisfy all tastes tastes: the lover of archetypal symbols can give a Mărțișor with a Celtic cross or a wheel of the world; the husband can declare to his wife that she is the most wonderful partner (through a funny diploma); Internet users can send emoticons or a Mărțișor made from...the keys of an old and faithful computer.
Also on March 1st, Romanians go beyond giving each other a Mărțișor: they choose their “hag”.That is, a day between March 1st and 9th, which, depending on the weather, can tell you how the whole year will be. The custom is linked to a Romanian mythological character - Baba Dochia, in whose story we encounter intertwined elements of Mărțișor.
Spring Holidays in America
We have seen what happens in Romania with the arrival of spring. But how do Americans greet the renewal of time, nature’s return to life?
In America, the first day of spring, also known as the vernal equinox, falls between March 19th and 21st. Among the social, symbolic practices of Americans we encounter some customs that take place ritually, year after year. We can integrate them all under the phrase Spring Coming.
With the occasion of the vernal equinox, many Americans gather in the morning in Columcille Megalith Park in Pennsylvania.
Also on the day of the vernal equinox we find the Snowman Burning Festival, which marks the end of winter and the arrival of warm spring, a source of joy. This festival first took place in 1971. The Unicorn Hunters team at Lake Superior State University (LSSU) decided that the festival would take place annually on the first astronomical day of spring. According to some, it was inspired by the German Rose Sunday Festival. Americans believe that the smoke that dissipates in the air from the ritual burning of the Snowman will drive away blizzards and help spring arrive faster. Meanwhile, this custom has been diversified: The Snowman can be made of paper, wire or wood, and is painted to be as realistic as possible, to look like a snowman as much as possible. (Photo source: https://happydays365.org/snowman-burning-day/snowman-burning-day-march/#/?playlistId=0&videoId=0)
We might mention other holidays that either precede or follow the first day of spring, which, on a symbolic level, are related to its coming.
For example, Groundhog Day, celebrated annually on February 2nd. Americans believe that this rodent has the magical power of predicting the weather. Legend has it that if the animal sees its shadow, six cold weeks will follow, and if not, spring will arrive earlier. According to tradition, this custom is specific to Pennsylvania, arriving there in the nineteenth century with the first German immigrants. ( Photo source: https://dayfinders.com/groundhog-day/)
Another American holiday is Cherry Blossom Day (April 1st). It is best known in Washington D.C. The beautiful cherry trees that guard the capital of the United States were received as a gift from Japan, from Tokyo, a hundred years ago. On this day, locals or tourists who stop here can sit on the specially arranged benches and enjoy the view and smell of cherry blossoms. (Photo source: https://myexclusivevacations.com/vacation/washington-dc-cherry-blossom-festival/)
All these Romanian or American traditions, old or new, the Mărțișor which protects from evil spirits, the Snowman ritually burned, the groundhog endowed with magical powers that allow him to predict what the weather will be like in the new agricultural year, the fragrant cherry trees received as a gift from the Japanese, each demonstrates in its own way the inexpressible joy that the spectacle of nature revived brings to our souls. With it, the joy of loving and being loved, of giving and receiving what is offered to us. We are what we give. Or, as the Romanians say: From one gift to another, paradise is born! Give, and you shall receive.
Text by Ciprian Voicilă, sociologist at the National Museum of Romanian Peasant.
Introduction by Geanina Simion.
EP. 2: Spring coming celebrations
Text by Ciprian Voicilă; additional text by Geanina Simion.
Translated into English by Andreea Scridon. Presented by Andreea Scridon and Sebastian Paic, museographer at the Ethnographical Museum of Transylvania.
Videography by Dragoș Popa.
Music: Love Song From Naipu / voice: Marin Duță, Petre Calistrache (source: the Ethnological Archive of the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant: