Every country has its own holidays that are often celebrated with time off work, family gatherings, parties or other activities. Some are international and even if they are not always celebrated on the same date, they are still encountered in a variety of countries, across different cultures.
Valentine’s Day and Dragobete
Maybe the most controversial of them is Valentine’s Day, which is Latin in origin. According to the legend, Saint Valentine was a Roman priest martyrized during the oppression of Claudius, the Roman Emperor. The day was linked to romantic love in the Geoffrey Chaucer era, when the tradition of courtly love throve. The first reference to St Valentine’s Day in relation to romantic love is in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules (1382) by: “For this was on seynt Volantynys day whan euery bryd comyth there to chese [choose] his make [mate].” Nowadays, it is the traditional day on which lovers express their love for each other, sending cards or heart-shaped candy, celebrated on February 14th.
Dragobete is perhaps the Romanian version of Valentine’s Day, although the similarities between the two are not as many as one might think. Dragobete was, according to the legend, the son of Baba Dochia, who marks the arrival of spring. This holiday, celebrated on February 24th, entails a mystical rather than commercial nature. People do not usually give candy or heart-shaped chocolates, but they engage in rituals, are joyful and sometimes even confess their true feelings towards loved ones. In blue skies, young girls and boys in the countryside gather in groups and spend the day by picking flowers such as snowdrops or plants they use in love incantations. Sometimes, they even find nettles which they use in traditional dishes. In bad weather, the group will spend time at someone’s place, telling stories and vowing love to one another for the whole year. In some regions, girls place basil under their pillow, hoping to dream of the one who will be their husband. Washing the face with snow is a prerequisite for good health and happiness. Also, during this time of the year, birds build nests and look for mating.
Halloween and St. Andrew (Noaptea Sfântului Andrei)
Halloween is a Celtic-origin holiday, celebrated today in many countries, and is marked by ghosts and goblins wandering the streets, scaring one another and asking for candy. People gather around the fire to tell scary stories and carve with care and skill pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns. Putting aside the commercial side, Halloween originated from a pagan festival in Northern Europe, when people thought that on this day the physical world can make contact with the spirits. Nowadays, Halloween, celebrated on October 31st, is marked by children dressing up in scary costumes, visiting other homes in the neighbourhood and playing “trick-or-treat” to receive candy, and by parties in what are known to be haunted houses or graveyards.
Although in recent years Romanians have adopted Halloween by organizing parties and wearing scary costumes, we do have a correspondent holiday, namely St. Andrew’s Night, celebrated on November 29th. Romanians believe vampires and the undead (strigoi in Romanian) come to Earth to fight and conquer souls, usually near abandoned houses. The holiday is marked by traditions, pre-Christian spectacular superstitions aiming at protecting people, their homes and domestic animals. People use garlic to protect themselves against evil spirits of the dead who, from various reasons, failed to reach the after-world. On this night, they become dangerous, bringing calamities, anguish and illness on Earth. People also think that wolves start talking and moving their neck, and people who can hear them find out terrible secrets. The punishment is however awful, because these people will be attacked by wolves and turn into werewolves. St. Andrew’s Night marks the beginning of the winter holidays, continuing with St. Nicholas, celebrated on December 6th and ending with the Epiphany (Boboteaz? in Romanian) celebrated on January 6th.
If you want to experience some of the above, you may be interested in attending or sending your children to a workshop on Sunday, November 30th, called Who Are You, Saint Andrew? and you can find out more about our traditions. Below, you can find the coordinates: