Martis bracelet: celebrate the arrival of Spring
Every year in Greece, on the 1st of March, children were offered a thin bracelet, made of red and white strings (symbols of purity and abondance) that has one and solid purpose: to protect the children’s cheeks to get burned from the sun in March.
The martis bracelet can have different forms, from very simple to very complicated ones. However, a simple cordon would do too. The bracelet must be woven on the last day of February. The name of Martis is derived from March (from latin Mars = Ares -Αρης-, the Greek God of war).
Children will have to wear the martis bracelet until the end of the month or until they saw the first swallow (and then offer it to the birds «for the build of their nest»). Another tradition is to keep it until Easter and then burn it with «Agio Phos» (Holy light) or to be tied on the leg of the lamb that is being cooked, burning over the open fire.
The martis bracelet is a pre-Christian custom common in in Balkan countries. A connection between the martis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, held twice a year February/March and September, certainly exists. The ancient equivalent of the modern Greek “martis” is mentioned in Photios’ Lexicon is the kroke (κρόκη): the priests wrap a red thread around their right hand and foot. At that time red or otherwise colored threads were used to protect children and youths from evil spirits and witchcraft.
The custom of wearing martis (and the games that were associated with it) as well as the custom of spreading «martola» – a kind of mash -on children’s faces were tricks parents used to know whether their child was sunburnt or infected by some springtime disease.