Dragobete: Romania’s Alternative to Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is the ultimate “love it or hate it” holiday. Eagerly left behind by some, while lingering on for others (especially couples), February nevertheless seems to revolve around the 14th of February. Although capitalism may have helped this holiday reach the global popularity it has today, there are many cultures where love is celebrated differently, with more than just a bouquet of roses and a box of chocolates.

One such alternative Valentine’s Day is Dragobete, celebrated in Romania on the 24th of February. It is deeply rooted in the country’s folklore. There are many versions of the story, but Dragobete is generally believed to be the saint of cheerfulness and love in Romania, likened to Cupid or Eros. However, he does not interfere in people’s lives, but simply reminds them about the importance of love. Some stories describe him as being half-man, half-angel, or being very beautiful and immortal. They also claim that he walks among us on Earth, but society is too absorbed in their everyday pursuits to notice him.

The celebration, while focusing on love, also announces the arrival of spring, being culturally seen as the official first day of the season. There are certain parts of the country where Dragobete was believed to be the patron of birds, hence why an alternative name for this day is “the day when birds are betrothed” – it is usually around late February that migratory birds start to return to the country and build their nests, marking the end of winter.

The customs regarding the celebration of Dragobete vary across Romania. Boys and girls dress in traditional clothes and gather flowers – finding strawberry flowers is considered very lucky, as they are they are believed to have magical powers. There is also the belief that stepping on your partner’s foot means you will be the dominant one in the relationship. A more national tradition is for boys to start running after the girls they liked – if they manage to catch them and the girl like them back, they usually share a kiss. The saying “Dragobete saruta fetele” (Dragobete kisses the girls), popular in Romania, was born as a result of this. It is also believed that those who take part in the customs associated with Dragobete, regardless of what they might be, will be protected from evil and harm for the rest of the year.

Romania is a country that, while embracing modernism and striving to be part of a more international culture and way of life, nevertheless holds on to tradition. Therefore, in Romania, Valentine’s Day co-exists with Dragobete, both being celebrated. This makes February truly the month of love in the country.

Julia London