Christians commemorate on March 9th the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, or the Holy Forty, (a group of Roman soldiers from the Legio XII Fulminata - Armed with Lightning - whose martyrdom, in 320, for the Christian faith is recounted in traditional martyrologies).
They were killed near the city of Sebaste (present-day Sivas in Turkey), in Lesser Armenia, victims of the persecutions of Licinius, who after 316, persecuted the Christians of the East.
The earliest account of their existence and martyrdom is given by Bishop Basil of Caesarea (370–379). According to Basil, forty soldiers who had openly confessed themselves Christians were condemned by the prefect to be exposed naked upon a frozen pond near Sebaste on a bitterly cold night, that they might freeze to death.
Among the confessors, one yielded and, leaving his companions, sought the warm baths near the lake which had been prepared for any who might prove inconstant.
One of the guards set to keep watch over the martyrs beheld at that moment a supernatural brilliancy overshadowing them, and, at once proclaimed himself a Christian, threw off his garments, and joined the remaining thirty-nine. Thus the number of forty remained complete.
At daybreak, the stiffened bodies of the confessors, which still showed signs of life, were burned and the ashes cast into a river. Christians, however, collected the remains, and the relics were distributed throughout many cities; in this way, veneration of the Forty Martyrs became widespread, and numerous churches were built in their honour.
In Romania, for this day, which coincides, as well, with the start of the agricultural year, a special sweet dish is prepared, called Mucenici (Martyrs), or Sfinţişori (Saints), depending on the region.
In Muntenia and Dobrogea (regions of Romania), small circles of dough are boiled in water with sugar, cinnamon and crushed nuts, symbolizing the lake where the Martyrs were cast.
In Moldavia region, the dough, in a large shape of the figure 8 is baked, then smeared with honey and walnuts.