The ‘martyrs’ celebration in the Romanian tradition

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Romanians celebrate the 40 Saints Martyrs from Sevastia, every year on March 9th.

The day marks the beginning of the agricultural year, as well as the end of the moody Babele days and the start of warmer spring days, also called “Mosilor Days/ Old men days”.

The rural traditions vary from one region from another, as well as the recipes of the “mucenici” cakes. It is the time for cleaning the house and for chasing the frost away. Women usually bake 40 “sfinti’ or “mucenici” cakes and men are drinking 40 or 44 glasses of brandy.

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. Even if they were taken out from the water alive, their bodies were burnt and the ashes thrown into the lake.

Their bones have been put altogether by the Christians and buried.

A Geto-Dacian legend says that there would have actually been 44 martyrs, just like the 44 days from March 9th to April 23rd when Saint Martyr George is celebrated.

Some of the relics of the 40 martyrs are also found at Antim Monastery in Bucharest.

March 9 is considered the beginning of the Agrarian popular calendar, celebrated as the passing between winter and spring, 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 the ‘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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