Love, the force that sets fire to young hearts, has a day of its own in the Romanian folk calendar. It is February 24th when Dragobete’s day is celebrated.
Ever since ancient times, Romanians used to celebrate Dragobete on the 24th of February. It was a sort of Valentine’s Day. This is the time when nature wakes up from her sleep; birds look for places to build their nests, and people, especially the youth, follow nature’s course.
A mythological deity similar to Eros or Cupid, the son of Dochia, Dragobete is a handsome man who likes to indulge himself in love affairs. He isn’t mild like St. Valentine, but tempestuous like the Dacian god who was thought to celebrate in heaven the marriage of all the animals. This has later on extended to people also, and young people keep the tradition up to this day: boys and girls meet on this special day to make their love last. People believed that birds got engaged on Dragobete’s day. So the holiday has a quite deep motivation, if we come to think that birds were considered messengers of gods, the Greek word for “bird” meaning “heaven message.” Dragobete is also a deity of joy and well-being, prone to giving parties and festivities, which often ended up in marriage.
According to the Romanian common belief, those who took part in the Dragobete festivities were protected against any sickness all year-long. So: early in the morning, dressed up in their Sunday best, young people used to meet in the center of the village or in front of the church. If the weather was good, they would go singing in small groups to the forest, to look for snowdrops or other spring flowers, and if the weather was bad, they would gather at one’s place to play games and tell stories.
On this occasion, young people used to make symbolical engagements (sometimes followed by real engagements). In the forest, they would gather around fires and talk. The girls would pick up flowers that were thought to have miraculous powers, in order to perform special rituals for love magic. Young girls would collect the fresh snow that they could find on this day and turn it into water. The water obtained from the immaculate snow was considered to be a magic love potion, which girls would use throughout the whole year. At lunchtime, girls suddenly started running back to the village. Each boy would begin chasing the girl that he liked. If the boy was fast enough and the girl he was chasing liked him back, this chase was followed by a long kiss. This was the playful engagement of the two, meant to last for at least another year.
The village’s community was very interested in what happened on this occasion, because at this time of the year they could find out what weddings they would have to attend in autumn. In the afternoon they would have a great party, where everybody, be it couple or not, would dance, sing, have a good time because it was said that those who didn’t have fun on Dragobete’s day, or at least seen a person of the opposite sex, would not be able to find a partner for the rest of the year.
Women used to touch a man from another village on Dragobete’s day, in order to behave more affectionately for the rest of the year, and they would also remember to well feed the animals in the courtyard, the birds in the sky, and protect all living creatures. Young men often partied in the neighboring villages, in order to have real good summers.
So Dragobete was a holiday of love, full of superstitions and special rituals. It was considered to bear luck for all activities and human actions, not only the small things, but also the big businesses. Farmers believed that Dragobete could help them have a richer year. People would not work on this day, they would keep it just like a religious holiday. They resumed their work to cleaning the house and cooking. It was believed that the girls who worked on Dragobete’s day would be punished by this deity. Even if he sometimes “punished” the disobedient ladies, Dragobete was seen as protector of love, bearing luck to young lovers and young people in general, like a true Romanian Cupid.