March Day of the Grandmothers, Balkan tradition of exchanging handmade amulets & middot; Global Voices

Tree decorated with amulets.

In some parts of the Balkans, there is a custom associated with the first day of March or March Day of the Grandmothers. On that day, people exchange with their loved ones white and red tassels, pompoms or bracelets woven with the arrival of spring.

Handmade amulets are known by many names: martinki martis (Мартинки in Macedonia), martenitsa (Мартеница in Bulgaria), mărţişor (in Romania and Moldavia) Greece). They are worn with pins on clothes or are wrapped around their wrists until nature begins to bloom, and then they are hung on trees. This educational video from Romania's Ministry of Foreign Affairs explains Mărţişor in more detail:

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Four countries -Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova- submitted a multinational application to UNESCO 2013 to protect the practice of Grandmothers March Day as an intangible cultural heritage of the Balkan people.

In order to promote this common cultural practice, four cultural organizations and institutions from Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, and the United States of America have been invited to re-submit the application in December 2015. Serbia have launched the project 'Happy Day of March of the Grandmothers 2016'. It includes a traveling exhibition of original handmade amulets from three of the countries, as well as panels, documentaries, creative workshops and a bazaar where attendees can purchase their own amulet.

handmade from Macedonia. Photo of HAEMUS. Used with permission.

The fun of the moment associated with the spring custom does not have to be limited to the Balkans. Wherever you are, you can join in by doing your own martinka / martenitsa / mărţişor / martis , as explained in this video tutorial from Bulgaria.

Vasilka Dimitrovska is cofounder of HAEMUS - Center for Scientific Research and Promotion of Culture, one of the sponsors of Happy March Day of the 2016 Grandmothers.

  • Adam Floyd