March 9, the Romanian tradition of the 40 Martyrs

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The 40 Saints Martyrs from Sevastia, celebrated every year on March 9, were Christian soldiers serving the Roman emperor Licinius. Three of them, Chirion, Candid and Domnos were very skilled in the study of the Scriptures. In 320, refusing to bow their idols, they were imprisoned for 8 days by Agricolae, the governor of Armenia. Finally, the governor sentenced the 40 martyrs to death by throwing them in the cold waters of Lake Sevastia. That night miracles happened, the water of the lake warmed up, the ice melted and 40 crowns came shining down on the martyrs. Their remains were burned and the ashes thrown into the lake.

March 9 is considered the beginning of the Agrarian popular calendar, celebrated as the passing between winter and summer, Dochia’s cold days to warmer days.

Except Maramures and Crisana, every region in Romania celebrates March 9. Women prepare the so called ‘mucenici’ (baked figure-eight dough) as they learned from their mother or grandmother. In regions like Moldova, Dobrogea or Banat ‘mucenici’ are baked in the oven and served with syrup, honey and ground nuts. In South of Romania they are made also from dough but cut into small shapes (eight) and boiled in syrup with nuts, sugar and cinnamon.

People give away ‘mucenici’ for the souls of the dead and for the abundance of the future harvests.

There are couples of superstitions around this day: one of them says if the water freezes on March 9, will freeze 40 days in a row, but if it’s sunny that means the weather is getting warmer.  They also say if it thunders on March 9, the summer will be productive, and if it thunders before that day, the summer will be dry.

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