Dragobete, the Romanian Valentine’s Day, ready to celebrate love, arrival of spring

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Dragobete is a traditional Romanian holiday celebrated on February 24, considered to be the equivalent of Saint Valentine`s Day (Valentine`s Day). It celebrates love but also nature that wakes back to life.

This day also bears the name of Cap de primavară (Beginning of Spring), Santion de primavara (Saint John of the Spring), Ioan Dragobete (John the Dragobete) or Logodnicul Pasarilor (Fiancé of Birds).

The legend has it that Dragobete was the son of Baba Dochia (Old Lady Dochia), which stands for the main character in the pagan myth related to spring arrival and the end of the harsh winter.

The day is particularly known as “the day when the birds are betrothed”. It is around this time that the birds begin to build their nests and mate. On February 24th, considered the first day of spring, boys and girls gather vernal flowers and sing together. Maidens used to collect the snow and melt it, using the water in magic potions throughout the rest of the year. Those who take part in Dragobete customs are supposed to be protected from illness, especially fevers, for the rest of the year. If the weather allows, girls and boys pick snowdrops or other early spring plants for the person they are courting.

It is a common belief in some parts of Romania that, during this celebration, stepping over a partner’s foot leads to the dominant role in the relationship.

Ahead the Dragobete Day, on 11th of February, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Martyr Saint Vlasie. He became the patron of birds of the woods and of pregnant women.

On this day, the migratory birds return and begin to sing and, on Dragobete Day, they gather in flocks and start mating and building the nests for their future chicks. The importance given to birds is not random, as they are considered as the messengers of gods. In the Romanian folklore, the bird, especially the cuckoo, represents the personification of love.

It is also believed that the birds which haven`t got a mate on Dragobete remain alone, a ritual which has been passed also to people. Boys and girls must meet so they won`t remain as alone as birds.

The Dragobete Day is inherited from the Dacians and the Romans. In ancient Rome, the Lupercalia festival was being held every February 15th. This was a celebration of fertility, with the tradition requesting that the young unmarried girls should write love notes. Each girl would be wooed by the one who had extracted her note from the great hazard`s urn.

The Lupercalia festival was dedicated mainly to gods Juno and Pan and to the god of fertility, Faunus Lupercalus. The traditions regarding the fertility were closely related to customs considered as actual orgies by some. In order to stop these orgies occurring on this pagan holiday, Pope Gelasius I proclaimed the holiday of Saint Valentine, on 14th of February.

It is presumed that Saint Valentine was a Roman priest, who was sentenced to death on 14th of February 269 and so he became a martyr. He was condemned to death because he used to officiate marriages in secret, in a period when the emperor was in need of soldiers to fight wars for keeping his colonies.

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