Columbia Home   Columbia University in the City of New York
  Romanian Club
Home Members Links Events Contact

A Romanian Valentine’s Day, the Dragobete Tradition

article by Dr.Mona Momescu

        Valentine’s Day (in its Western culture acceptation) has not been celebrated in Romania until very recently. It has become a popular holiday for about six, seven years as a result of the influences of the American popular culture. It is celebrated by people in their late teens or twenties, belonging to urban milieus, and it is usually perceived as an occasion to party, to give and receive presents and to enjoy the favors of the person one likes. Celebrating Valentine’s Day is seen as a privilege of the moneyed people who can play the "westerners" in a genuine way.

        Very few people really know the meaning of Valentine’s Day; even fewer associate this day with St. Valentine or know anything about the hagiographic story. Unlike in the American culture, Valentine’s Day has less to do with sending cards as a sign of friendship, tenderness, love for all those who were dear to one’s heart, it has more to do with sending or expecting rather erotic presents or being invited to parties.

        Very few people of the young generation (if any) know that Romanian traditional culture celebrated its own "Valentine’s Day"; unlike in the Catholic Church, the lay holiday of love and brotherhood was connected to St. John. It was celebrated on February, 24, when the Orthodox Church commemorated The Discovery of St. John the Baptist’s Head. It was a lay holiday specific to the southern part of Romania, esp. to Oltenia, Gorj county and Muntenia. Young people believed that if they spoke sweetly to each other they would be loved and endeared by everybody in the community along the year.

        Dragobete was a holiday for teenagers. If the weather allowed it, girls and boys used to take short trips to the woods to pick up snowdrops and other early spring plants. If it was windy or cold, the girls gathered at someone’s house and they invited boys there. They spent the day telling jokes and courting each other, "doing the Dragobete"(from the Slavic word that meant "beloved"), as they used to call it.

        If a girl did not meet with any boy or man that day, she felt miserable as she was convinced that she would not find a boyfriend or lover along the year. This is why young people preferred to arrange small parties and to create a warm, loving atmosphere during the day.

        Teenage girls in rural communities had "love contests" that day. Those who were courted by many boys were suspected to have cast a spell onto them, in order to deprive their mates of the joy of finding a lover.

        Dragobete also meant a day of brotherhood and sisterhood; many young people in rural communities chose this day to become sworn brothers or sisters.