Dragobete, Romanian Celebration of Love

While Valentine’s Day is mostly related to people (a saint and those he helped) and their actions in the name of love, the Romanian holiday dedicated to love, Dragobete, is strongly connected to nature. Celebrated on February 24th, it is linked to that special time of year when birds build their nests and mate. As the first signs of spring show, nature and man restart the cycle of life and love. What better reason to celebrate? What better reason to sing, dance and kiss girls?

Dragobete, also named Dragomir, is the local counterpart of Roman god Cupid and Greek god Eros. He isn’t however mentioned as a divine creature. He is a positive character, a symbol of pure love, completely opposite to his mother, Dochia. Dochia is said to have been a very cruel mother in law, making a habit of mistreating her daughter in law. She sent her to pick up berries in the month of February, an impossible time of year to find such fruit. God helps the girl in her task fact that leads to a tragedy.

Dochia, believing it was spring already, takes her sheep and her son, Dragobete, up the mountain. Although she carries 12 lambskins in the beginning of her journey, she looses them. The story has two versions here: they either get wet because of the rain or she throws them as it was very warm. Both Dochia and her son freeze to death on the mountain.

However, I like happier myths about who the mother of Dragobete was. One version of the story is of a proud woman, teasing the month of March who then gets even by taking a few days from February. Other stories are of Dochia, sister of Dacian ruler Decebal, who runs away in the mountains to seek refuge from the Roman Emperor Trajan. She disguises herself as a shepherd, but looses her lambskin and freezes. She is then metamorphosed into a stream and her sheep are turned into flowers.

Regardless of its origin, the myth of Dragobete speaks of pristine love, of nature’s rituals translated into people’s life, of new life cycles and of being reborn. It is also said that couples are watching out for which one of them is stepping over the others foot. It is believed that he or she will then take the lead in the couple :)

You all know Valentine’s Day is not a big celebration in all parts of Europe. I believe it is gaining more ground in Romania because of Dragobete. We were all used to celebrate love in February. But the celebration of Dragobete was somehow lost. There are quite a few Romanian voices frowning upon the widespread of this “imported” holiday. They see it as an US commercial scheme, forgetting all about its European roots.

I believe it was a good thing. Besides giving us a different reason to celebrate love in all its forms, it reminded us of Dragobete. The moment the foreign holiday started to become popular, voices rose to remind us of our own tradition. More of us got to know what it was all about and we do celebrate it.

In the tradition of Dragobete, this weekend has been extremely sunny and warm. Birds also seem to sing a lot more cheerfully.

I’ve heard of celebrations being organized in the Cismigiu park. I’ve heard of lover’s trips to Venice offered as prizes on Dragobete. It’s here, around us, and invites us to sing and dance. That is why I am inviting you all to come celebrate with us. Bring your loved ones along, get them flowers and warm feelings and let’s cherish the rebirth of nature!

For those of you wanting to know a little more, here are a few furtherreferences on Dragobete.