Dragobete is a Romanian holiday that is celebrated on February 24th, each year. In the traditional Romanian mythology, Dragobete was a young god of the autochthonous pantheon, but whose celebration date varied from one historic region to another. He is the patron saint of love and cheerfulness and is oftentimes associated with Roman mythology's Cupid and Greek mythology's Eros. But unlike the aforementioned gods of love, Dragobete did not directly intervene in the affairs of humans. He did not use his powers to make people fall in love, but rather to always remind people to never stop celebrating love.
Dragobete holiday in Bucharest's historic center
A local legend claims that Dragobete was, in fact, the son of Baba Dochia, the daughter of the last Dacian King, Decebalus. Also known as Dragomir, the young man is described as a half-man half-angel, beautiful, and immortal. It is said that he walks the Earth just like other mythological creatures and demigods, but regular people are not able to see them due to the decadence of the society that we live in.
Some ethnographers also link Dragobete to the arrival of spring. In certain areas, Dragobete was believed to be the saint patron of birds, the holiday being linked to fertility and the rebirth of nature. Dragobete is celebrated less than 1 month before the Spring Equinox, and it is said that on this day birds began to build their nests, the trees start blooming, and all of nature comes back to life after the long and heavy winter.
In order to celebrate his birthday, parties were organized, and oftentimes marriages quickly followed behind. The local boys and girls used to wear special clothes and meet in front of the town's church. From there, their quest began. They would wander into forests and over the plains in search of spring flowers. The boys who found strawberry flowers were the luckiest. It was believed that these have magical powers, so they would make little bouquets and place them in the water used by girls to wash their hair while reciting a magical poem. At noon, the girls were running back to the village, and if a boy liked any of them, he would have to run after her and catch her. If he was quick enough, and if the girl liked him back, they would have kissed in order to make their love public. This is how the famous saying "Dragobetele sărută fetele" (Dragobete kisses the girls) was born. At night, the boys and girls would head over to the hills surrounding the village in order to make bonfires, and they would sit around them and chat until morning.
In some villages, the traditions were even more personal. On the day of Dragobete, young boys and girls would make a small cut in the shape of a cross on their forearms, and they would overlap their markings in order to become blood brothers or sisters. This ceremony was also performed by swearing oaths of loyalty, or by brotherly hugs and kisses. Those who became blood brothers would then organize a feast for all their friends, in order to celebrate.
Despite the great worldwide success of Valentine's Day, Romania is still quite attached to its age-old traditions. Thus, Dragobete and Saint Valentine were forced to learn to co-exist. Some people celebrate only Valentine's Day, other celebrate Dragobete and those that are madly in love, both. But unlike Valentine's Day, Dragobete is not only about roses, heart-shaped chocolate, jewelry, and love letters. Be tender to your significant other, show them your appreciation and your love not through material objects but through your attention and your presence. Some of the old traditions advise us on how to behave on this day, in order to celebrate it properly.
First of all, both young girls and boys are not supposed to cry or complain. According to the tradition, those who do so will bring nothing but sorrow and trouble to themselves in the following months. Secondly, at least on this day, men should not annoy women, otherwise, their love life might fall apart. Housekeeping or working is also not recommended, but you can, however, clean the house. But if there is one thing that you should definitely avoid, that is sacrificing animals. It is believed that doing so will damage their mating ritual, and might have a long-term negative impact on the household.
Dragobete is a holiday that also includes those who are single. So if you don't have a significant other, do not despair. Tradition says that if you meet and hug at least one person that you are attracted to, your love life will make a turn for the best. So asking your crush on a date for Dragobete might not be such a bad idea.
These being said, it’s obvious that in Romania, February is indeed the Month of Love. After many years of oblivion during the communist period, Dragobete is rapidly recovering his rightful place, reminding people to never stop loving each other in the old-fashioned Romanian way.