February, 24th – ‘Dragobete’, the celebration of love at the Romanians.
Although we don't need special occasions to show our love, local tradition records some dates in the calendar, in this sense. And February 24th is perhaps, the most significant day.
Dragobete represents the god of youth in the local pantheon, patron of love and good mood. If the Greeks have Eros, the Romans have Cupid, we have Dragobete. At the balance of seasons, when the earth starts to warm up, but there are still patches of snow, when the day gets longer and the cold gets milder, Romanians celebrate love. This is how they chose to welcome spring - with love. So, February 24th celebrates the story of Dragobete.
Etymological speaking, among different hypotheses we mention the one which comes from Old Slavonic: “dragu biti” - to be dear. Following this line, several derivations were used trough the time, the name of Dragobete, being attested later, only at the end of the 18th century, especially in Muntenia and Oltenia.
Folklore collectors from the 19th – 20th century also recorded other names for this holiday, such as "Ioan Dragobete", "Dragostitele", "Santion de primavara" – St. John of Spring, " or " Spring Head", due to its association with the beginning of spring, but also with the religious holiday “The Head of Saint John the Baptist”. Dragobetele is also identified with another mythical representation of the Romanian Pantheon, “Navalnicul”, a handsome boy who takes the minds of girls and young wives, which is why he was metamorphosed by the Mother of God into the plant of love that bears his name (a species of fern).
It is said that Dragobete was a fierce but handsome young man who went around the villages and taught the proud and the lads the secrets of love. Rumor has it that this young man was actually the boy of Dochia, the one with nine skins. In the old legends it is said like this: the 24th day of February represents the beginning of the agricultural year and, on this particular day, Dragobete officiated the wedding of all the animals. And the girls and boys in love also met on this day so that their love story would last the whole year, like the speechless ones.
Today represents an occasion of socializing and finding the one, an opportunity to make their love public or to form new relationships Girls and boys dressed in holiday clothes set off in groups through the meadows and forests, singing and looking for the first spring flowers. On this day, the girls pick-up flowers, which they put on the icons, to keep them until ‘Sanziene’ (midsummer day), when they threw them into the flowing waters. They also collect the fresh snow, melt it and wash their heads with the water thus obtained, believing that they would have hair and skin pleasing to their admirers.
On the way back, the flying tactic was applied: each boy chose a girl he liked and chased after her, and if the girl also liked the boy, she let herself be caught - then they kissed in front of everyone. Hence the saying "Sweethearts/Dragobete kiss the girls!", thus sealing the relationship for a year or more. Often, the tradition was left with a happy ending, as the young people ended up getting married.
Many times the boys travel to the neighboring villages, chirping and singing over the hills, to participate in the Dragobete celebration there. In the afternoon, they gather in large numbers at a house, to "play Dragobete", being convinced that, in this way, they will be in love the whole year, until the next Dragobete. This meeting often turns into a real party, with food and drink.
According to the customs, this celebration had to be kept at all costs: If isn’t held somehow, it is believed that young people would not fall in love in the following year. In addition, it was a bad sign if a girl or a boy did not meet at least one representative of the opposite sex during this day, the general opinion being that, throughout the year, they will no longer be loved, and if a girl went out with a boy and did not they were kissing, it was believed that they would not fall in love again that year.
The traditions go further, to the courtyards of the householders: although on this day field work was forbidden, for growth and abundance the mistress of the house must clean the courtyard. That's all - no sewing, washing or other household chores. All the poultry are treated with better food than on ordinary days, their slaughtering being forbidden. It is also said that, for good luck in the house, the first picked spring flowers should be placed at the icon.
In the nature’s world, Dragobete represents the day of birds mating. After a long migration, once arrived they gather in flocks and settle, chirp and start building their nests. Unmated birds on this day remained awkward and without chicks until next year's Dragobete.
Nowadays, the celebration has overcome the rural barriers, being celebrated all over the country, but the customs have disappeared, being just another occasion when those who love each other can give each other gifts and declarations of love. Flowers are, however, the elements that have remained over the years through their symbolism. Most lovers take advantage of Dragobete day to give their loved one a bouquet of flowers.