SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Millions of Bulgarians and Romanians are observing a centuries-old regional custom, handing out spring charms to loved ones as they do every March 1.
Martenitsi — from the Bulgarian word for March — in their simplest form are red-and-white woolen tassels that symbolize love, health and fertility. North of the Danube, Romanians call them Martisor. The woolen charms were pinned Friday to clothing, dangling from wrists, tied to front gates, and attached to the collars of cats and dogs.
The white symbolizes male strength and longevity and the red represents the female spirit and is associated with health, blood, and fertility. Many struggling with economic hardships spent weeks creating the tiny, intricate trinkets before selling them on the street in hope to improve their meager incomes.
Alina Toposan, a 36-year-old economist in Romania, was optimistic: "Spring brings flowers and hope of a revival after a hard winter. It's a new beginning." Charms are credited with warding off disease, the evil eye and bad luck, ensuring the fertility of livestock and a plentiful harvest. Unmarried women put their martenitsi under a big stone to receive good luck in marriage.
Bulgarian Martenitsi are worn until March 22 — unless you see a stork or spring blossom. Then it is tied to the branch of a tree to make a wish.
Alison Mutler in Bucharest contributed to the report.