Dragobetele is a traditional Romanian holiday with pagan roots, celebrated in some areas of the country.
It is considered to be the equivalent of Saint Valentine`s Day (Valentine`s Day). This day also bears the name of Cap de primavară (Beginning of Spring), Santion de primavara (Saint John of the Spring), Ioan Dragobete (John the Dragobete) or Logodnicul Pasarilor (Fiancé of Birds).
It celebrates love, in the time when nature wake back to life.
The Dragobete Day is inherited from the Dacians and the Romans. In ancient Rome, at the beginning of spring, on each 15th of February, the Lupercalia festival was being organized. This was a celebration of fertility, occasion on which the tradition requested the young unmarried girls to write love notes. Each girl would be wooed by the one who had extracted her note from the great hazard`s urn.
The Lupercalia festival was dedicated mainly to gods Juno and Pan and to the god of fertility, Faunus Lupercalus. The traditions regarding the fertility were closely related to customs considered as actual orgies by some. In order to stop these orgies occurring on this pagan holiday, Pope Gelasius I proclaimed the holiday of Saint Valentine, on 14th of February.
It is presumed that Saint Valentine was a Roman priest, who was condemned to death on 14th of February 269 and so he became a martyr. He was condemned to death because he used to officiate marriages in secret, in a period when the emperor was in need of soldiers to fight wars for keeping his colonies.
Before Dragobete Day, on 11th of February, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Martyr Saint Vlasie. He became the patron of birds of the woods and of pregnant women. On this day, the migratory birds return and begin to sing and, on Dragobete Day, they gather in flocks and start mating and building the nests for their future chicks. The importance given to birds is not random; these creatures are regarded as the messengers of gods, also the Greek word for bird means messenger of the sky.
The tradition says that the migratory birds return and open their beaks and start signing. It is also believed that the birds which haven`t got a mate on Dragobete remain alone and with no chicks until the next Dragobete. This ritual has been transmitted to humans also. Boys and girls must meet so they won`t remain as alone as birds.
In Romanian folklore, the bird, especially the cuckoo, represents the personification of love.
The Romanian folkloric belief says that the ones participating to Dragobete shall not fall ill for the rest of the year. In the morning, dressed in their best clothes, the young boys would meet in the centre of the village or in front the church. If the weather is fair, they would move off in singing groups to the woods or to meadows to look for snowdrops or other miraculous plants (used for love incantations). If the weather isn`t favourable, they would gather in houses, play games and tell stories.
Dragobete was, and hopefully shall remain one of the most beautiful Romanian traditional holidays, in which the human feelings and the rhythms of nature are intertwined. Unfortunately, after the 90s`, the Romanian traditional holiday has been slowly replaced by an imported holiday, the commercial stance of Saint Valentine, which has nothing in common with the tradition of the Romanian people.