Dragobete is the Romanian equivalent of Valentine’s day, a traditional holiday celebrated on February 24. According to popular legends, Dragobete is Baba Dochia’s son (the Old Dokia), a figure identified with the return of spring. He is described as a handsome lover who used to seduce all the girls coming his way. He was the Dacian god who, in early spring, used to officiate the animals’ mating rituals. This custom was extended to people. Therefore, February 24 remained a holiday named after this god of youth and joy, a day when young people meet and show each other their love.
The etymology of the word has been much debated and various explanations have been proposed. The best known is the analogy of “dragu-bete”, the juxtaposition of the word “dragu” which means “dear” and the suffix “bete” which is used in the region of Oltenia with the sense of gathering, crowd.
Customs, traditions and superstitions
It is said that young people dressed in beautiful clothes, used to meet in the center of the village or in front of the church and went together into the woods. They were singing around the fire and the girls were picking spring flowers. At noon, when they returned home, the boys were running after girls to kiss them. If the girl liked the boy, she let him kiss her. This race was called zburătoritul (a word made up from the verb to fly) and the kiss heralded the engagement between the two. In the evening, the young people used to announce their engagement in front of their family and friends and celebrate it. There is a saying in Romania related to this tradition: “Dragobete kisses the girls”.
A superstition said that those who did not want to celebrate with the bride and groom would be punished and would not love the whole year. Same thing would happen to those who saw no person of the opposite sex that day. On the other hand, if the girls had touched a boy from a different village, they would have been in love the entire year.
Romania’s traditional folklor dance called “hora”
If the weather was dreary, young people would gather at someone’s place and spend the day dancing, playing and chatting. In some regions, the boys used to do a cross-shaped sign on their arms with a knife, touch their cuts and utter an oath to remain blood brothers for life.
According to another tradition, maidens used to collect the snow that lay on the ground in many villages and then melt it, using the water in magic potions. If there was no snow, they used to collect rainwater or spring water. It was said that this potion would make them more beautiful and loving.
February 24 is related to spring arrival and the end of harsh winter, it is the day when the birds begin to build their nests and mate. As Dragobete was considered the god who protected the animals, the elders from the villages used to take more care of the animals on this particular day. They believed that on this day, the birds chose their “life partner”. Their sacrifice was strictly forbidden. Besides, it was said that Dragobete would help householders to have a fruitful year, but only if they did not work on this day. Cleaning their homes was instead allowed.
Dragobete kisses the girls. Who runs after you today will love you the whole year.
Unfortunately, after Romania had imported Valentine’s day and most of the shops started to sell a lot of themed products, the importance and the beauty of Dragobete faded away. There are however many persons and companies who are fighting to save the Romanian holiday and started a campaign to promote the day through various interactive slogans. In 2016, a symbol was associated to Dragobete in a campaign that caught many people’s attention. The symbol represents the Union and refers to the ritual of birds that seek their life partner on particular day.
I encourage all my dear Romanian fellows to love in a Romanian way on our special Dragobete day!