1st Day of March today, in Greek we say KALO MINA, but this month also has an extra symbolic meaning and that is none other than the tying of two pieces of string, called ‘Marti” one coloured red and the other white, entwined together and then left to be displayed usually around the wrist.
The preparation of these “Martis” usually takes place the night before, in other words the last day of February. You will see that the majority of children today will have them tied around their wrist, as their grandmas, mothers, aunts and even teachers act out the ritual.
But where does this custom come from? What does the custom mean?
The ‘Marti’ is an ancient custom, by Balkan diaspora. Believed to have originated in Ancient Greece and specifically in the Eleusinian Mysteries where the initiates tied a thread, the ‘Kroki’, on their right hand and their left foot, as stated by the folklorist Nikolaos Politis.
According to custom, March the 1st, mothers made children wear the ‘Marti’ around their children’s wrist in a form of a bracelet which was made of twisted white and red thread, the ‘Marti’ was supposed to protect them from the first sun of spring, which is particularly harmful, according to folklore. The ‘Marti’ also protects you against, it is believed, by mosquitoes and fleas and even removes diseases and other evils.
In Zakynthos the idea that it protects you from the sun is what many will tell you and with the old Zakynthian saying, “να μην τους κάνει σαν κουρούπα”, in other words burnt to a cinder, no hair on your head certainly would make one think.
In some areas the ‘Marti’ is worn on the big toe like a toe ring to protect the person from clumsiness and avoid stumbling.
The ‘Marti’ will be worn all through the month of March, at the end of the month, it is then left on the rose bushes for the first swallows ‘Hellithonia’, to use and to build their nests or it is burnt by the Easter candle’s light at resurrection on Easter day.
The ‘Marti’ through the Christian Church’s eyes from the days of John Chrysostom was thought to be a pagan theory and custom brought about from the 5th century.
So there you have it, if you see during the month young and old wearing a red and white coloured string bracelet you now know what it means.