Holy 40 Martyrs

Another holiday rich in customs is the day of the Holy 40 Martyrs, which is celebrated on 9th March.

Customs, traditions and beliefs

On this holiday in Oltenia there are a number of traditions and customs related to the protection of the family from unclean things. The landlords prepare „martyrs”, which, together with bread horns with honey and walnuts, are baked in the hearth and are consumed only on this day, as they are divided for commemoration of the martyrs. Their form is different depending on the region and the way of preparation. Some of them look like dolls with heads, noses, hands and legs. The anthropomorphic forms of dough, similar to the digit 8, which are made in Southern Romania, are not baked, but are only dried and boiled in water, in which are added sugar, walnuts, cinnamon and honey. They are prepared in two different ways: baking or boiling of formed dough. The landlords form and prepare a fixed number – 40 or 44 “holy men” or “martyrs”. In the country, the women still make two breads, which they stab with the tube of the loom shuttle until they make 40 holes, which they fill with honey. One of these breads is given for commemoration to the first passer-by or neighbour. The baked dishes are decorated with small circles, a symbol of the sun, which has reached its spring equilibrium in its annual circle. The second bread is left in the house and is eaten by the whole family. It is called „The Home Bread” and is eaten for health and abundance. The prepared dough, no matter the name, form or whether it is sanctified in the church, is always given for commemoration of ancestors and forefather. The custom is known, in different  versions, everywhere in Romania. March, 9th  is also a holiday of the dead, when not only „the martyrs” are given away, but also white beans, nuts, dried fruits and peanuts.

Another custom for the holiday is smoking the people and the household. Before people go out of their home, the woman sets a rag on fire and smokes the ankle of each member of the family in order for them to be protected from snake biting. This custom is done reverently, as it is taken into consideration that all the labour of the Romanian peasant is done in the nature.

Sources: Ana Daria Ionescu-Haidău, Sânzienile, Editura Măiastra, Tg-Jiu, 2009; Alexandru Doru Șerban, Valentina Șerban, Credințe, datini și obiceiuri în Gorj