FOLK HOLIDAYS - Dragobete, Romanian love holiday

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In the Romanian tradition, Dragobete is the god of love and well-being, being celebrated on every February 24. This god's celebration was especially revived after 1990, in response to the Valentine's Day, a celebration that Romania borrowed from the West.

Photo credit: (c) Constantin Duma / AGERPRES ARHIVĂ

This day also bears the name of Cap de primavara (Beginning of Spring), Santion de primavara (Saint John of the Spring), Ioan Dragobete (John the Dragobete) or Logodnicul Pasarilor (Fiance of Birds). The holiday is specific to southern Romania, namely to regions such as Oltenia, Muntenia and partly Dobruja. The custom is millennia old and marks the beginning of spring, the revival of nature, love and togetherness.

The community used to take much interest in what happened on this day, since it was a chance for them to know what weddings they were to attend later that autumn. In the afternoon the entire community, couples and singles all the equal, gathered to sing and dance and enjoy themselves together. They say that young people who did not party on Dragobete or did not see a person of opposite sex on this day will remain single for the rest of the year.

According to the Romanian tradition, Dragobete marks the beginning of spring and of the agricultural year. This is the moment when the entire nature comes back to life, birds nest and, according to some folk beliefs, bears get out of their dens.

A mythological divinity similar to Eros, the Greek God of Love, and Cupid or Amor, the Roman God of Love, Dragobete is also known as Dragomir, whom the Romanian folk tradition reagrds as the son of Old Dochia. Impetuous and inconsistent, he is different from the mild St Valentine of the Roman Catholic tradition and is pictured as a strong, handsome and loving lad, who mostly lives in the woods.

Dragobete is taken over from the ancient Dacians, the ancestors of the Romanian people. The ancient Dacians saw him as a matchmaker, a witness to the weddings of all the birds and beasts and animals in Heaven, in early spring. Over the centuries, the Romanians changed Dragobete into the God of Love, a protector of lovers, who brings them good luck and it is said that the love of those who meet on Dragobete Day lasts all year long, the same as that of the birds which mate on this day.

Dragobete is also the god of high spirits and therefore people throw parties, get engaged or even marry on this day.

Many beliefs are related to this day, thus, it is said they who celebrate the day, will be protected against diseases, mainly against fever, and farmers are to have a rich crop year.

In the old times, on this day, the young people's joy was heard in every Romanian village along with the words: "Dragobete is kissing the girls!"

In the morning, wearing their Sunday bets, the lads and lasses would meet in the centre of the village or in front the church. If the weather was bad, they gathered at the house of one of them, where they played games and told stories by the fireside. If the weather was fine, they would move off in singing groups to the woods or to meadows to look for snowdrops, violets or other miraculous plants (used for love incantations).

Sometimes, the young men also visited the neighbouring villages on this day, in order to have a good summer.

The elder were supposed to take care of both the birds in their yard and those in the sky. They were not allowed to sacrifice animals on this day, because the love commitments would have been thus broken.

The women were supposed to touch a man from another village, so that they will remain loving the entire year, while the men were careful not to upset the women, because they would have had a bad year.

This feast of love was considered good for the small jobs, but not so good for the more important ones. Since the people believed that Dragobete would help them to have a better year than others, they observed this day the same as any other religious holiday — they did not work, being only allowed to clean their houses. Only the most daring of the girls worked, for they wanted to be "punished" by the god. But even if the love god sometimes used to "punish" the women, the belief was saying that Dragobete was a protecting god, who brought good luck to young people, especially to lovers. AGERPRES

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