Martaki: more than a bracelet
Μάρτης (martis), μαρτάκι (martaki): a bracelet made by entwining red and white thread that people wear on the 1st of March in Greece and other Balkan countries. Μάρτης (Martis) also means March, the third month of the year.
An ancient tradition
This tradition has very ancient roots: perhaps it is as old as the Eleusinian Mysteries. The Eleusinian mysteries were celebrated in ancient Eleusis, a city near Athens, in honour of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, her daughter Persephone, and Hades or Pluto, the god of the underworld. It was a celebration of spring emerging victorious over death, and Persephone leaving her husband’s Hades gloomy Underworld to emerge young, beautiful and alive on the surface. The Mysteries is where people from all over ancient Greece would gather to become initiated to some obscure rituals (the sources we have, tell us little about the mysteries, as it was forbidden to talk about what happened), rituals that alleviated the fear of death and promised rebirth and renewal.
During the festival, a procession would start from Athens to travel to Eleusis, making different stops that had ritual significance on the way. In one of them, they would stop at the lakes of Rheitoi, where the pilgrims would have a red woollen string tied to their right arms and left legs.
Then ...and now
People remain more or less the same throughout the centuries: everything changes but at the same time, everything remains the same. The tradition remains and continues to be passed from grandmother to grandchild all the way to today when we wear the martaki on the 1st of March so that the sunlight doesn’t burn us, as it becomes stronger with spring.
After March is gone, almost as a sacrifice to spring, we tie the little bracelet onto some tree branch, so that it can be taken by the swallows that travel to Greece from Africa, and they can use it to make their nests.
The journey of the white and red thread is long: it travels around, tied to some busy wrist, protecting the bearer, until it becomes part of a swallow household, protecting the little birds before they start on their big journey to Africa. Everything changes, but everything remains the same.
I'm from the island of Corfu but lived many years of my adult life in Athens, where I studied History and Archaeology. My journey brought me to different places in Greece and abroad to excavate in archaeological digs, and lead me to become a tour guide, travelling with various groups around Greece, sharing with them the rich history and culture. I met my future husband in the National and Archaeological Museum in Athens, and I currently live in Germany, where I continue my journey of discovery and knowledge. Language is one of my passions too, and I am fascinated by learning new languages but also teaching Greek to foreign students.