Dragobete is a traditional Romanian holiday celebrated on February 24, 10 days after Valentine’s Day, and is a day dedicated to love and nature.
Dragobete was the son of Baba Dochia, which stands for the main person in the myth related to spring arrival and the end of the harsh winter.
According to some versions of the story, due to his endless kindness he was chosen by Virgin Mary to be the Guardian of Love.
With the month of February marking the onset of spring, all of nature itself seems to be in celebration, as birds begin to mate and build their nests during this time. For that reason, this day is also known as the day when “birds are betrothed”, and, in turn, this promising sign inspires Romanian youth to pursue their own future mates.
It’s also said that If boys don’t meet the girl they like, they will have really bad luck for the rest of the year.
On this day, considered locally the first day of spring, boys and girls gather vernal flowers and sing together.
Traditionally maidens used to collect the snow that lay on the ground in many villages and then 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.
Basically in Romania, Dragobete is known as a day for lovers, rather like Valentine’s Day.
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, but Dragobete customs vary from region to region (interestingly, in neighbouring Bulgaria, the custom of stepping over one’s partner’s feet traditionally takes place during weddings with the same purpose, but it is not believed to be connected to Dragobete).
In the countryside, for example, it is celebrated by the youth of the villages going into the woods and picking flowers like snowdrops and strawberry flowers.
At lunchtime, girls would return to the village running, a custom named ‘zburătorit’, while being ‘chased’ by a boy. If the boy was fast enough to reach the girl and if she liked him, she would kiss him in plain sight. Hence the expression “Dragobetele saruta fetele” (Dragobete kisses the girls).
This kiss signifies a potential engagement of the couple for a year. In a way, it’s also a public declaration of affection, wherein the whole community gets to know who is special to who.
In some areas, single women eat salty bread baked by the eldest woman in the household, put basil under their pillow, and if they are destined to marry within the next year, they will dream of their future husband.
If you wash your face with melted snow to keep your skin youthful, healthy and glowing, for the entire year and it seems also that those who cry or complain on Dragobete day will have nothing but sorrow and trouble in the year to come, so stay content and joyful!
Moreover, the purple ‘love flower’ plant can help determine if your love does indeed spring eternal…or not: plant two seeds and watch them grow, if they lean in and touch each other, all’s well for you and your partner.
Either way this holiday has probable roots in Dacian and Roman traditions.
In ancient Rome, the Lupercalia festival was held on February 15 each year, with recorded evidence tracing back as early as 600 B.C. This was a celebration of the Roman god of fertility, Lupercus, and it was a rather violent and chaotic festival, where tradition required young unmarried girls to write love notes and put them in a giant urn. Each girl would then be wooed by the man who randomly picked her note.
During 201 A.D. to 300 A.D., it is also believed that a man named Valentine was executed by Roman Emperor Claudius II, for secretly marrying Christian couples.
This is, in short, the origin of Valentine’s Day, when the Catholic Church declared him a saint and commemorated his death on February 14. Therefore, Dragobete is often seen as a counterpart of the more modern celebration of Valentine’s. However, the Dragobete of legend was the patron saint of love, birds, and spring, unlike the Greek and Roman gods Eros and Cupid.
He did not directly intervene in human affairs either, choosing instead to just remind people to keep celebrating love….
Images from web – Google Research