In Romanian, Martisor means little or dear March (Martie means March). Celebrated on the 1st of March, as the first day of spring, is a day to celebrate the end of winter and the new life that comes to Earth.
Archeological discoveries point to the fact that Martisor has been celebrated on the territory of today's Romania, for about 8000 years. No one knows exactly how the custom started or why. Only legends remain, lost in the mists of collective memories.
One such legend says that on the first day of of March, the beautiful goddess of Spring took a walk in the forest. In a clearing, she notices a snowdrop flower trying to come out from under the snow. Spring, being the goddess of life, decided to help it by gently melting away the snow around it. Seeing this, the god of Winter became angry and called the wind and frost to destroy the tiny shy flower who froze immediately. The goddess of Spring cupped her hands and covered it trying to warm and protect it. The god froze Spring's hands, cracking the skin. A drop of the goddess' blood touched the snowdrop, bringing it to life again. This way Spring defeated Winter and the white and red colors of the Martisor string symbolize her red blood on the white snow. White is also the symbol of the purity and delicacy of the snowdrop, the first spring flower, while red is a color of blood and life.
Another legend of the Martisor that I love is the following:
Once upon a time, the Sun came down in a village to be part of the dances as a young beautiful man. A monster followed and kidnapped him from between humans to hide him in a dungeon. Thye world became a sad place. The birds sang no more. The creeks stopped flowing and the children were laughing no more. No one dared to confront the monster. But one day, a strong and brave young man, decided to go and save the Sun. Many humans walked with him and all creation gave him power to help defeat the monster and free the Sun. The young man's journey lasted three seasons: summer, autumn and winter. At the end, he found the monster's castle and the battle started. After three days of fighting, the monster was killed. Weakened and injured, the young human man freed the Sun who climbed up the sky bringing joy and beauty back to Earth. The nature came back to life, people knew happiness again, but the young man never got to see spring again. Out of his wounds, ward blood spilled over the snow. As the snow was melting, white snowdrops were blooming, announcing spring. Every last drop of the young man's blood spilled in the snow and he died. Since then, the young men knot two strings, one white and one red and offer them to the girls in the village. Red means love for all that is beautiful and is a memory of the blood the young brave man shed for humanity. White means the health and purity of the first snowdrop, first flower of spring.
There are many more legends about the Martisor, but in all, the red stands for blood, life and fertility, while the white stands for purity, health and joy, both winded like DNA strands.
Every year, for over 8000 years, on the first day of spring, Romanian men offer the Martisor to women. In the old days, to the red and white string used to be threaded a gold or silver coin that was worn at the throat, hair, hand. As a talisman it protected the health and the joy of the woman that wore it for 12 days. The magic is lost, and yet, men still offer women little charms, flowers, love hearts, that are attached to a red and white cord that is worn attached to the clothes for the first 9 days of spring after which is tied up to the branches of a tree.