Dragobete, the Romanian way to celebrate love

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

The legend says 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 cold, harsh winter.

On February 24, boys and girls would pick up 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 are attending 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.

Another custom on Dragobete in the Romanian countryside said that Dragobete was actually celebrated on March 1. Festively dressed, boys and girls from the village used to meet in front of the church and went to look for spring flowers in the forest and on the meadows. If they found blossomed strawberries they picked them in bouquets and sang an incantation: “Strawberry flowers/ From the month of February/ I want to be liked by everybody/Please break all spells“.

Then fires were lit on the hills in the village and boys and girls used to chat gathered around these fires. At lunch, girls would return to the village running, a custom named zburătorit, while were ‘chased’ by a boy. If the boy was fleet of foot and reached the girl and the girl liked him, she would kiss him in plain sight. Hence the expression “Dragobetele saruta fetele/Dragobete kisses the girls!”. This kiss used to mean a potential engagement of the boy and girl for one year or more. So, Dragobete was an occasion to display your love in front of the community.

The day is also 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 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.

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.

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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