When I was a kid, every year there was a day when my mum would come to me and my little sister and give us a thin bracelet, made of red and white strings. This is ‘Martis’ (lirerally meaning March), she would say. And with that care in her voice that only mothers carry, she would add: And you should wear it, so that the sun doesn’t burn you.
As a kid, I wasn’t exactly sure how the Martis would protect me from the sun, but in my mind, this day only meant one thing: the beginning of spring, my favourite season. I knew that while wearing it, the days would get longer, the sun would shine brighter and some of my favourite foods (strawberries!) would start to appear at the markets.
Martis is part of folk tradition in Greece and the Balkans, going back for decades. The phrase my mother would use (I learned as an adult), is associated with the often unexpected changes in spring weather, a reminder that one needs to be careful this month. Its colours, red and white carry various symbolisms in different cultures across the region. The ritual of removing it is equally important in Greek tradition. Folk tales say how one has to remove it at the end of March, and hang it on a tree, so that swallows then collect it and use it to create their nests. Another tradition calls for the Martis to be removed at Easter, and to be tied on the leg of the lamb that is being cooked, burning over the open fire.
As an adult, I rarely bothered to actually take two pieces of string and create my own. So when a few years ago, working at our shop at Borough Market, Marianna came and gave us all a Martis, I was presently surprised. And immediately transported back to my childhood, remembering my excitement about spring.
We used to make this with my grandmother, Marianna told me. We would sit across from each other with long white and red strings and twist them tightly. Then we would cut it in pieces and give to the whole family. Unlike me, Marianna has been wearing the Martis every year. And every year, she gets it for all of us at Oliveology.
So this March, join us at Oliveology, in sharing your childhood memories around Martis and celebrate the beginning of spring that is finally here.