March is almost over. In Greece as in the States, the wildness of the month is captured in many proverbs (“in like a lion, out like a lamb”). But there is a peculiar March tradition that you perhaps are not familiar: the tradition of wearing red and white bracelets from the first to the end of the month.
The “Marti” bracelet, as it is known, is derived from the Greek word for the month of March, “Martios” Children and young women make the bracelets out of simple thread and wear them to signal the coming of spring. Actually, it is the mothers who make the bracelets and give them to their daughters. The white symbolizes purity, and the red color stands for life and passion. As it gets much warmer in March than it does in the Northeast of the US where I am located, the tradition also acts as a talisman to keep the sun from scorching delicate skin. In fact, the tradition is not germane only to Greece; many Balkan countries share a similar ritual. (I picked up a Bulgarian “March” bracelet from an Eastern European deli around the neighborhood.) An older babushka explained to me that in agricultural villages, March would be the time to return to the fields, and by extension, long days in the sun. The bracelet was to keep you from getting burned while tending the soil. (Luckily, we have sun block now.) It was a sign of lower-classes to look dark and sunburned. To enhance the purity of a girl’s skin, mothers would give the bracelet as a talisman to keep them white and rosy.
As the tradition goes, on the last day of March, people take off their bracelets and hang them in the branches of fruit trees such as apricot and lemon. The idea is the symbolic colors of red and white will strengthen the fruit tree so that it gives many fruits. In other parts of Greece, however, the tradition varies. You can remove the bracelet only when you see a swallow returning for spring so that the bird can take the thread you left in the tree to conveniently build its nest. Some places wrap the bracelet around a pitcher to keep the water cool.
For sure, if you look back far enough for an explanation, I am certain you will find a pagan root for this tradition. Indeed March is the start of spring and the red and white ribbon must have been involved in springtime rituals to mark the return of life to the earth. Some scholars mention its precedence in the Eleusinian Mysteries. Participants would tie a red ribbon called a “krokos” around their wrist and ankle to show participation in the festival.
Make your own Marti Bracelet
What you need is: red and white thread, a pair of scissors, and a button preferably of red or light blue color (This colour symbolizes the eye of God and is believed to protect from evil). Twisted March Bracelet This is the most common version of the bracelet. Start with a long strand (50-60cm) of each thread color. Pass your threads through the hole of the button and secure with a tie knot.
Take both strands between your thumb and index finger and twist them together. Once finished pass twisted treads through the other hole of your button and secure with a tie knot. Wear your bracelet and adjust the size by creating a knot with both ends.
Adjust the size right before you are done twisting the threads and leave a loose part the size of your button to work as a loom. Then secure with tie knot (as shown in the picture with the red button).