Dragobete, a traditional Romanian observance, is celebrated on 24 February each year, 10 days after Valentine’s Day, and is a day dedicated to love and nature. 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’. Why the name Dragobete though? Legend has it that he was the son of Baba Dochia, the goddess who ushered in spring, and because of his unending kindness, he was blessed by the Virgin Mary, to be the guardian of love.
History of Dragobete
Dragobete Day 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. 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 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.
In Romanian custom, observing Dragobete is essential to protect one from illness the rest of the year as well. Traditionally, 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.
Romans celebrate Lupercalia to honor Lupercus, the god of fertility.
The last King of Dacia fights two wars with Rome — Dragobete is said to be his grandson.
Valentine is executed by Emperor Claudius II for marrying Christian couples in secret.
Because he was killed for love, the Roman Catholic Church declares 14 February as Valentine’s Day to honor his martyrdom.
How do Romanians celebrate Dragobete?
In the Romanian village, Dragobete was celebrated by young men and women who revealed their relationships. They would pick flowers, chant songs by the river, or dance ‘hora’ – the Romanian folk dance.
What do you say on Dragobete?
If the boy who chases the girl he likes is quick enough, and if the girl likes him back, they kiss in order to make their love public. And this is how the famous saying “Dragobetele sărută fetele” (Dragobete kisses the girls) was born.
What does Dragobete mean?
Dragobete is a traditional Romanian holiday celebrated on February 24. In Romania, the festival is named after Dragobete, the guardian of love, and 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.
Get out there and revel in nature
With spring in the air, take the opportunity to enjoy nature as it blooms and revives after the long winter months. Choose an outdoor event or activity, and in the spirit of Dragobete, do it together with the person you love.
Appreciate your special someone
Unlike Valentine’s Day, Dragobete is not commercial or geared towards consumerism. There is no need to burn a hole in your pocket buying red roses or candy. Instead, make your significant other feel special through some good old quality time and attention. We cannot count the ways there are to make someone feel special, just by making things personal.
Make a bold move
If you’re single and wondering how Dragobete is relevant to you — it is, so don’t despair. According to tradition, meeting at least one person you like or are attracted to, and giving them a hug, will ensure that your love life takes a turn for the better. So what are you waiting for? Go on and ask your crush on a date. Make the first move, and Dragobete will take it from there.
5 Fascinating Dragobete Traditions To Try Out
Know your future spouse
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.
Ward off illness
By participating in Dragobete festivities, in the coming year illness is warded off, especially a fever.
Get crystal clear skin
Wash your face with melted snow to keep your skin youthful, healthy and glowing, for the entire year.
No tears or fears
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.
Find out if your love will last
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.
Why We Love Dragobete
We love love
February is clearly a month where love is in the air, indeed, all around us! And Dragobete is yet another day to celebrate love in all its variety. What makes this day of observance even better is its adherence to the essence of love, expressed through gestures, rather than merchandise.
This celebration offers us a window into the mystical culture and traditions of Romania — a land that already brings us fascinating legends of vampires and the like. Filled with magic and folklore, there is much to explore when it comes to Romanian heritage.
It’s for everyone
Whether single, married, or going through a rough patch in relationships, Dragobete is a festival for the entire community; which comes together to celebrate love and the fecundity of spring. There is some custom for everyone, and that’s what makes it such a joyful affair.