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Martis: The red and white bracelet Greek children wear on their wrist on March 1st

March 1st is the day where Greek children have to wear a Martis or Martaki, a red and white bracelet on their wrist. The bracelet made of string has one and solid purpose: to protect the children’s cheeks to get burned from the sun in March.

Apparently the sun in March or Martis in Greek, is especially harming, says the old Greek customs tradition.

Martis or Martaki -little march -as the bracelet is called, has to be on the left wrist because the left side of our body is the “receiving side,” close to our heart.

The string can have different forms, from very simple to very complicated ones.

However, a simple cordon would do too.

Children will have to wear the bracelet until the end of the month.

There are several explanations as to why the children have to wear the bracelet and these also vary according to location.

One of the explanations in Serres, North Greece, for example, is that in old times women should not have sun tan as this was a sign of a not wealthy class but of the women working in the fields. In this sense, the bracelet would protect the girls from the sun and consequently from growing up to be sun-burned farmer women.

What is true is that it is mostly girls who wear the Martis and not boys.

The Martis is certainly a pre-Christian custom common in the folks in Balkan countries and the Middle East.

Some see connection between the Martis and the Eleusinian Mysteries were initiations held every year for the cult of Demeter and Persephone. The Mysteries were  the “most famous of the secret religious rites of ancient Greece” and were held twice a year in February/March and September.

Others claim that on March 1st ancient folks would celebrate the beginning of the new year that was always connected to the Spring.

In the Greek Orthodoxy, the Martis it is supposed to symbolize the blood of Jesus Christ’s Crucifixion and the Resurrection.

Of course, there is also the explanation, a modern one, that the bracelet is a talisman that keeps away next the the sun, also the evil eye, the sickness and all kinds of misfortune.

In modern Greek world, it is also the adult women who wear the bracelet.

Whatever, the explanation fact is that at the end of the month, on March 31st, the bracelet has to be removed and either be burned in a bonfire or hanged on a tree.

When I was a child, my great grand mother used to take a simple red sewing thread, fold it three or more times and tie it around my wrist. Here is a more personal KTG blog post on the Martis tradition.

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