February 27, 2015

Mysterious Romania (VIII) Martisor

I  wrote about Martisor, a lovely  Romanian spring tradition, in two 2013 and 2014 posts. Mărțișor, marț and mărțiguș are all names for the red and white string from which a small decoration is tied, and which is offered on the 1st day of March. 
Giving this talisman to people is an old custom, and it is believed that the one who wears the red and white string will be happy and healthy for the year to come.  Today I will tell you the legend of  Martisor and some of the customs linked to it in various areas of Romania.

 Once upon a time, the Sun came down to Earth. The Sun reached a village where many young people were dancing a hora (traditional dance). To be able to enjoy the fun, the Sun turned into a pretty young maiden  and joined the hora. A dragon kidnapped the young woman and closed her  in a cave. The whole world was devastated. The birds no longer sang, river no longer flew to the sea, mankind was threatened by famine. Nobody dared fight with the dragon. At last, a young man decided to try his luck and save the Sun. Several men  gave him their powers to make him invincible. His journey lasted for three seasons: summer, autumn and winter.

The brave young man found the dragon and they fought for days on end. Weakened and wounded, he managed to defeat the dragon and release the sun. This rose  high above on the sky, and all the world rejoiced. Unfortunately the valiant young man died. The blood oozed from his wounds on the snow covering the earth. And while life ebbed away from his body,  white snowdrops,  flowers heralding spring, appeared.
 Ever since that day, young men offer the girls they love,  either two tassels, one white, the other red, or a white and red thread.  Red means love for everything that is beautiful in our life, reminding us of the brave young man’s blood, white symbolizes health and purity, reminding  us of snowdrops, the first spring flowers that appeared at his death.  

The white and read thread – Martisor – is put around the wrist of small children to protect them from bad spells and bring them luck.  In some areas, children wear the thread around their neck for twelve days and then tie it to a  young tree branch.  If  that year the tree goes well,  it means that the child will go well in life  too.

In Moldova and a large part of Romania’s villages there’s the belief that hanging the Martisor thread on a tree branch will bring wealth and health  into people's homes. There's also the belief  that if someone  thinks of a wish while hanging the red-white thread on a branch, the wish will come true. A funny thing in Moldova is that girls and women offer martisoare to boys and men, while in the rest of Romania there's the belief that if a man receives a Martisor he will cry that year. 
  In Transylvania, Martisor is hung on doors, windows and horns of farming animals as this will frighten  evil spirits.

                Nowadays, on March 1, Romanians buy silky red-white threads tied into a bow to which a small trinket is attached and offer them to the (female) family members, friends and colleagues to show friendship, respect or admiration.
  What a pity other people don't borrow this tradition from us, the same we did with Valentine Day or Halloween.


February 24, 2015

Romanian Valentine Day

The Romanian equivalent of Valentine Day is called Dragobete. It dates back to Dacian times and is celebrated on February 24. Dragobete is the equivalent of Cupid, love’s god in Roman mythology, and Eros in Greek mythology.

Dragobete,  Youth God in Romanian Pantheon, nicknamed Spring Head, is celebrated, depending on the ethnographic area, on one of the days at the end of February or beginning of March. The legend claims that Dragobete is Dochia’s son. He stands for a positive element, in opposition to Dochia who is the bad mother of the earth, the embodiment of the old year, of winter, according to Geto-Dacian mythology. Dochia is represented as an old woman wearing nine sheepskins that she sheds along the road as she leaves the country.

It is around Dragobete time that the birds begin to build their nests and mate. Dragobete customs vary from region to region.  Considered locally the first day of spring, it is the moment when boys and girls pick snowdrops or other early spring plants for the person they are courting, and sing together. The girls keep the flowers until Sanziene day when they throw the flowers in a river.

As a rule, young people, girls and boys, meet at a house and spend the day together singing, eating and drinking, having a good time. Then they go to the nearby forest and make a hora, (traditional dance).

On Dragobete morning the girls and young women gather snow, melt it and use the water to wash their hair. They say their hair and complexion will be pretty and liked by men all year long.

Those who take part in Dragobete customs are supposed to be protected from illness, especially fevers, for the rest of the year. It is a common belief in some parts of Romania that, during this celebration, if you step over your partner's foot, you will have the dominant role in your relationship.

Dragobete festivities, once waited anxiously by young people living especially in Bucovina county, are almost forgotten. Only elderly people speak about them, trying to rekindle their flame in the heart of the young generations. I fear this  is unlikely to happen as  Saint Valentine Day, that has no connection to Romanian spirituality, is a strong competitor. And a good advertiser for all kind of trades.  All Dragobete rituals are little by little lost and replaced by the more glittering and louder ones of Valentine Day. No matter how beautiful our traditions may be, the interculturalism is leaving its print on the Romanian customs. 
Anyway, for those who still celebrate it, I wish a Happy Dragobete Day!

February 23, 2015

Guest Promo (LXVI) Medieval Monday

I'm delighted to host on this round of Medieval Monday, the lovely author Barbara Bettis and her  novel 
                                  THE HEART OF THE PHOENIX

Some call him a ruthless mercenary; she calls him the knight of her heart. 

LadyEvelynn’s childhood hero is home—bitter, hard, tempting as sin. And haunted by secrets. A now-grown Evie offers friendship, but Sir Stephen's cruel rejection crushes her, and she resolves to forget him. Yet when an unexpected war throws them together, she finds love isn’t so easy to dismiss. If only the king hadn’t betrothed her to another.

Can be cruel
Sir Stephenlives a double life while he seeks the treacherous outlaws who murdered his friends. Driven by revenge, he thinks his heart is closed to love. His childhood shadow, Lady Evie, unexpectedly challenges that belief. He rebuffs her, but he can’t forget her, although he knows she’s to wed the king’s favorite. 

And deadly 
When his drive for vengeance leads to Evie’s kidnapping, Stephen must choose between retribution and the love he’s denied too long. Surely King John will see reason.Convict the murderers; convince the king. Simple.Until a startling revelation threatens everything.


At first, Evie thought it was the thud of her headache. Then the pounding came again, louder. She groaned and turned over. Opening her eyes told nothing; the blackness in the cabin was impenetrable.

“Marie?” Her voice rasped in a dry throat. Blasted tears.

No one answered. The girl must still be on deck. Evie might as well have left Marie behind, for all the assistance the maid provided. With a groan, she swung her feet over the side of the bunk and felt her way along the wall toward the sound of another insistent knock.

“A moment,” she called. “I’m coming.” Who had the nerve to wake her in what must be

the middle of the night? Hah. Need she even wonder? Her toe collided with something, and she yelped as she landed on her knees on the wood plank floor. Just what she needed.A broken foot.

The door burst open, bringing with it a dim light. “What’s wrong?” Stephen’s deep voice filled the room. “Where’s the damned lantern?”

“If I knew, I would have lighted it.” Blasted man. Did he think she enjoyed stumbling around in the dark? He acted as if she did so just to plague him.

Holding a shielded ship’s lantern high, he stepped toward the desk. “Here it is. Where’s that light skirt who’s supposed to be your companion?”

“Leave Marie alone. I wanted privacy and gave her permission go above.” Never mind that Evie had just complained about the same thing. He had no right to do so.

“What do you want?” she asked. “Is something wrong?”

“A little late to ask that, isn’t it?” He bent to coax the cabin lantern to flame.

“Oh, for the love of heaven. Stop plaguing me. Why are you here?”

“I thought you’d like to know the identity of our fellow passenger.”

“At this hour? Could you not have waited until morning?” Sweet Mary, preserve her patience. He was the most maddening man alive.

Light flared in the cabin’s shuttered lantern, throwing a shadow across his face, reminding Evie of another reason he should not be here. Her body instantly throbbed to life.

She pressed her palms against her stomach and inhaled. Calm. She needed calm. He was not the most beautiful man she’d ever beheld. He did not possess the power to heat her blood to boiling.

He did not care that she thought of him night and day.

That much was true, for certain.

“I have news that will make the rest of your trip joyful.”

His words centered her whirling mind, and Evie eyed him warily. What news could possible make her happy right now?

She ventured a guess. “You are leaving? Your second in command, the delightful Sir Macsen, will accompany me the rest of the way home?”           

“Much better.”

Evie could tell Stephen was angry now by the way he glowered and roared in that whispery sort of way no one else could hear, but left her with no doubt of his displeasure.

“Your betrothed.” He bent and scooped her off the floor.

“What? What about him?”

“That’s the identity of the illustrious lord who’s sharing passage with us.”

“You’re drunk. And put me down. I’m perfectly capable of getting up on my own.”

“Be quiet. You have blood on your leg.”

“Of course I do. I tripped and fell trying to answer your pounding when you could easily have opened—” His words finally penetrated her throbbing head. “I’m bleeding?”

Oh, blast. The contents of her—empty—stomach churned. She attended the villagers’ hurts, bound the cuts and scrapes of servants and their children. The sight of their blood bothered her not a whit. But her own? Black spots danced at the corners of her vision, becoming larger and larger until she heard Stephen’s voice.

“Evie, Evie. What the hell?”

His voice echoed so far away. If she didn’t know better, she’d vow he sounded alarmed. Perhaps she’d close her eyes for a moment. As the ringing in her ears crescendoed, she recalled

his words. Betrothed.

Her betrothed was on board?

Dear Lord, just let me die.
You can watch a trailer that includes all the covers of the books that take part in the tour: