Central and Eastern Europe, Tourism

Mărţișor: UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage

There is a beautiful ancient tradition in the Republic of Moldova (and some other countries of Eastern Europe). On the first day of March, people offer each other Marțisor (pronounced mərt͡siˈʃor), a symbol of coming spring and joy. Its name is a diminutive from Martie in Romanian, meaning March (month).

Some experts in ethnology believe that Mărțișor has a Roman origin, while others believe it is of Daco-Thracian origin.

From the ancient time people were celebrating the spring coming with long time forgotten rituals. They used small pebbles painted in white and red arranged alternatively on a string. Those times, some magical rituals involved animal sacrifices to determine their pagan Gods to listen to their prayers, blood being associated with life, fertility, and worship. On the other hand, the snow, the ice, and the clouds were white. In a single expression the meaning of two colours might be: “let’s forget about winter and pray our Gods to bring us fertility”.

At the beginning of 19th century people were wearing the beautiful amulet around their necks or on their left hands two with woollen yarns (one red, one white) knitted together and a small silver or golden coin hung on them. The belief was that those who wore the Amulet were protected and would have good luck the year ahead.

This tradition changed with the time. Nowadays all people in Moldova, children and adults, women and men, wear Martisor on the left side of their dress, close to the heart, starting from the 1st of March until the end of March when they hung the string on the first tree in bloom. It is believed this way people have closer links with nature and helps to have good harvest, but also wealth and happiness for the whole year.

Exchanging Martisor with each other is a gesture of friendship, respect and appreciation. Despite all attempts of USSR nomenclature to eliminate it, this tradition survived and is very popular in the country.


There are numerous legends that explain this beautiful tradition. Here are two of them.

One legend says that once in a fight with the Winter witch, that didn’t want to give up its place, the beautiful lady Spring cut her finger and few drops of her blood fall on the snow which melted. Soon on this place grew a snowdrop indicating that Spring won the Winter.

Another legend tells that there was a time when the Sun used to take the shape of a young man and descend on Earth to dance among folk people. A dragon found out about this and followed the Sun on Earth, captured him, and confined him in a dungeon in his castle. Suddenly the birds stopped singing and the children could not laugh anymore, but no one dared to confront the dragon. One day a brave young man set out to find the dungeon and free the Sun. Many people joined in and gave him strength and courage to challenge the mighty dragon. The journey lasted three seasons: summer, autumn, and winter. At the end of the third season the brave young man could finally reach the castle of the dragon where the Sun was imprisoned. The fight lasted several days until the dragon was defeated. Weakened by his wounds the brave young man however managed to set the Sun free to the joy of those who believed in him. Nature was alive again, people got back their smile, but the brave young man could not make it through spring. His warm blood was draining from his wounds in the snow. With the snow melting, white flowers, snowdrops, harbingers of spring, sprouted from the thawing soil. When the last drop of the brave young man’s blood fell on the pure white snow, he died with pride that his life served a noble purpose. Since then, people wear two tassels: one white and one red. The red colour symbolizes love and the blood of the brave young man, while white represents purity, good health, and the snowdrop, the first flower of spring.

We have received from H.E Tania Pârvu, Ambassador of the Republic of Moldova to the Netherlands this beautiful gift and letter to celebrate Mărțișor. It has been hand crafted in the home city of Ms. Pârvu: Căinari by children and adults.

Thank you!

Images: Embassy of Moldavia in the Hague