On the first of March each year Romanians celebrate Martisor. My first Martisor came as a surprise. I was not forewarned of the customs until about a week ahead of time when I asked my colleagues why there are stands up throughout the city selling decorations and flowers. My second Martisor was spent presenting on the topics of Peace Corps and volunteerism to a small group of bright young individuals at a library in Craiova. This past martisor was spent at yet another Peace Corps event hosted by the Gender and Development Committee helping with set up and looking on while art projects where displayed and awarded in their portrayal of this year’s theme, “Peace at Home, Peace in the World”. March first has turned out to be a very important day in my Peace Corps service but what exactly does Martisor mean and why is it celebrated?
In trying to steer clear of the textbook/Wikipedia answer I’ll try to give a PCV perspective on the local holiday. A week or two before March first, stands go up around town and the people standing behind the table are selling small gifts or flowers. You walk down the street seeing table after table filled with little white boxes that say “1 MARTIE” in red at the top of the box. Each little box has a small window revealing its contents which may be a 4-leaf clover, a chimney sweeper, a flower, or a number of other symbols. A friend of mine even found a martisor that looked like a salted pretzel. The one thing that each martisor does have in common is the red and white string attached to it. There are various explanations for what each color represents but one explanation is that the white represents winter while the red represents spring, and the fact that the colors are woven together represents the transitions from winter to spring. Looking back over the three different Martisor celebrations that I have had, though I’ve participated in 3 different activities in 3 different locations, there has been this one constant of season change. Now when I think of the first of March, like most Romanians, I consider it the beginning of spring.
Martisor 2012 presented an opportunity for me to get together with good people and get crafty. My host country organizations MaiMultVerde (MMV) decided that it would be nice to gather some materials from around the office (materials that would have probably been otherwise thrown away or recycled) and make something nice out of them. This year, instead of spending money on cheap, plastic gifts probably made in China, I spent hours with fellow MMV volunteers cutting paper, gluing various things together, and tying red and white strings around them. I even learned some origami which is something that I wouldn’t mind learning more of if I have time. The result was great. Some of the gifts were sold to the GAD committee for their event while others were sold to MMV supporters. The money that was raised will be used to support a tree planting activity that will take place in April.
One quick fact that must be mentioned about March 1st is its intimate connection with Peace Corps. Like all things super important there is a day dedicated to them. Mothers are super important so there is a mother’s day. Human Rights are super important so there is a Human Rights day. Fooling people is super important so there is a Fool's Day. Well Peace Corps is pretty important too, and so on March first we celebrate Peace Corps Day. Though, in Romania, Peace Corps Day is usually overshadowed by the local Martisor celebrations it is no small matter. March first is the day that President Kennedy officially established the Peace Corps. Happy Birthday Peace Corps!