In Greece, it’s customary to salute everyone you see the first day of each month, with the greeting “Καλo Mήνα” (Kalo Mina), which literally means “good month”. It’s the Greek way of wishing friends, family and kin a good month ahead of them. It’s our way of wishing you well!
The tradition of Martis, from which the month of March derives its name, is a custom to usher in the transition from winter to spring. March is considered the first month of Spring in Greece, and on March 1st, folklore states that if you tie a bracelet of red and white string around your wrist, it will protect your cheeks from the burning sun – the white string is for purity and the red for the colour of sun kissed cheeks. Many Martis bracelets are also adorned with a blue evil eye bead to bring the wearer good luck.
My yiayia, i.e. my grandmother, remembered weaving together her Martis bracelet every March with her cousins in the village when they were young girls. It is also customary to make them with friends, and then exchange them as friendship bracelets. Martis bracelets made of red and white thread, are traditionally worn from March 1st until the 31st. The tradition dates back to ancient Greece and is held throughout the Balkans.
“This bracelet that I make for you, will protect you from the burning March sun.” My yiayia would say to my mother as she tied a double knot around her wrist. She chanted the words “Οπόχει κόρη ακριβή τον Μάρτη ήλιος μη τη δει”, denoting that her precious daughter not be burned by the sun’s rays that are known to be very strong during March.
It is believed that the custom of Martis, originated in Ancient Greece and specifically in the Eleusinian Mysteries, aka the cults of DEMETER and PERSEPHONE, when the initiated wore a red thread, representing passion, named “Kroki” around their right hand and a white one, representing purity, on their left foot. Eleusis was an ancient city on the road to Athens (now a suburb), that was the heart of these rites and mysteries tied to the cycles of nature – as the goddess myths explain.
Nowadays, the custom is still carried on with the red and white threaded bracelet and it is worn throughout the whole month of March. The bracelet is traditionally threaded on the last day of February, and is said to protect the wearer from diseases and the rays of the sun, which are generally harsh near the Mediterranean during March.
So if you put the Martis on at the beginning of March, when do you take it off? The answer is different throughout Greece. In some regions, they’re taken off at the first sign of spring, once the first flowers begin to bloom or at the first sight of birds returning from their winter migration.
In several regions in Greece, at the end of the month, the bracelet is placed on rose bushes after they’ve seen the first swallow, so it can pick it up and build its nest. In other regions, the bracelet is wrapped around pitchers in order to protect the water from the sun and keep it cold.
Others prefer to take them off on Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday, and throw their bracelets into the ashes of the Easter lamb roast – thisis said to be symbolic of Christ’s resurrection, where all our sins burn away and disappear. Still in other parts of Greece, they wait until the end of May, when they’re thrown into the fires used to burn the floral May wreaths that once adorned their homes and businesses.
Today, you can find Martis bracelets at many shops all over Greece, as well as online. Some even have charms – mine has a cute evil eye threaded on! If you’re in Greece, it is worth checking out different stalls in arts & crafts markets, such as in Monastiraki or Thiseio in Athens, where many local artists make their own Martis to sell.No matter how long you choose to wear your Martis, don’t forget your SPF at home 😉 Kalo Mina to all!
Καλό Mήνα σε όλους!