Valentine’s Day has not been celebrated in Romania until imported together with Halloween and other aspects of UK/US culture, but we have a local traditional equivalent of St. Valentine’s Day, almost forgotten except some country regions. Called Dragobete (a kind of local Cupid elf – Dragobete was the son of Baba Dochia, which stands for the main character in the pagan myth related to spring arrival and the end of the harsh winter), it was traditionally celebrated by the 24th of February by young people.
That day, clothed with holiday suits, young men and women of the villages meet in front of the church and go searching the woods and meadows for spring flowers.
They gather to pick snowdrops (first flower of Spring) if the weather was not too rainy. A feast would occur in one of their homes, complete with dancing and merriment. This was considered to be the time when single people would “pair up”. The young people were convinced that they had to be happy and joking all day else love would elude them all year long. If a girl did not meet a boy that day, it was told that no one would love her all year long.
They sit around fire on the hills of the village and talk. At noon, the girls run to the village, each followed by one boy who had fallen for them. If the boy is fast and reaches the girl of his choice and if she likes him, she kisses him in front of everyone. This tradition triggered the expression “Dragobete kisses the girls!”. The kiss show the two lovers’ engagement, Dragobete being an opportunity to show the love in front of the community.
There are a number of Dragobete customs in rural areas, many of which are not kept by modern Romanians anymore.
In the old days, single women used to gather the last remnants of snow, called “the fairies’ snow”, and the water resulted from the melted snow was used throughout the year for various beauty treatments and love spells.
On this day, no animals are sacrificed because it would ruin the point of mating.
The tradition goes that men should not hurt women, nor argue with them, otherwise they will not do well the whole year. Youngsters believe that on this day they should be joyous and respect the holiday, so that they can be in love the whole year.
Modern Romanians embraced Valentine’s Day in the early ‘90s. More recently, a new movement has emerged in Romania – that of celebrating the traditional holiday instead of what is seen as the commercial, Western European -imported celebration. Bar and clubs organize Dragobete-themed nights, media outlets put up themed campaigns to remind Romanians of their traditional holiday.
I like this, but I don’t like the hate messages which are usually implied together with the invitations to celebrate Dragobete, that one shouldn’t want Valentine’s Day because it is foreign. I think people should not be encouraged to hate, but to embrace both holidays, because love is worth celebrating. (And any opportunity for a little celebration, for getting out of the usual routine, is a good one).
Since I got married to a man who is as fan of the Chinese and Japanese cultures as I am of the Age of Sail and of the Greek, Spanish and Latino-American ones, I admit that we do celebrate Chinese New Year every year too 🙂 This, in the same spirit, that everything is worth celebrating, if it means being out of routine for a day or an evening…
The love between Valentine and Dragobete is lost in translation, how I saw a funny Valentine on Facebook saying…
LA MULŢI ANI DE DRAGOBETE!