Imagine a Valentine’s Day that wasn’t universally scoffed. Where you don’t have to pretend to hate the holiday while really wishing someone had sent you a box of See’s Chocolates. Where single ladies also feel loved, and men don’t feel pressure to propose atop the Eiffel Tower in an effort to live up to Hollywood and Hallmark expectations.
Well, Barcelona did it again. Of course it did. Because it’s my favorite city in Europe, and one of the most beloved cities in the world, and it’s only fitting that this near-perfect city has its own perfect day of romance:
El Dia de Sant Jordi.
On April 23, Catalonia celebrates the patron Sant Jordi (Saint George) much the way we seem to devote our hearts to Saint Valentine. It’s a day of romance, but not how we tend to think of it. It’s not about heart-shaped chocolates or teddy bears or flying baby cherubs. It’s not about expensive dinner reservations, or the best but actually worst time to pop the question.
Sant Jordi is blissfully simple in its gestures. Girls gift boys books, and boys gift girls roses. The tradition stems from an old legend involving a knight, a princess, a slain dragon, and a red rose forming out of the dripping dragon blood (Catalonia – 1 : Hallmark – 0). Where the books come from, I don’t really know—maybe a clever ploy to get us all reading again?
In the wee morning hours of April 23, people begin setting up tables and stands all over the city (and I imagine in all the towns around Catalonia as well) to sell roses. The streets are literally covered in stands. During my 10-minute walk to work, I must have passed at least 15 places to buy flowers. Larger spaces like the famous Las Ramblas boulevard and the many plazas throughout the city also have stalls selling new and used books, and even performances. I’ve heard that Catalonia does 10% of its book sales during this one day.
La Rambla is always a tourist suck, but I have truly never seen so many people there as on Sant Jordi. It’s probably the one day all year when locals also dare to make an appearance on the street. I went during siesta hours, luckily, but even then it was hard to take a step. Normally I’m not at all a fan of La Rambla, and try to avoid walking on it if I can. But Sant Jordi was different. For the first time I saw the tree-lined boulevard as not kitschy and touristy, but beautiful. I understood what all the fuss was about. Then again, it was positively covered in flowers of every color. You put that many long-stem roses on a landfill and I’d probably think it was beautiful, too.
Yes, Sant Jordi is a day for romance, but not exclusively. That’s what felt so special about it. Even though I’m lucky this year to have a Catalan beau, I didn’t get the feeling that Sant Jordi promotes unnecessary despair if you are without a partner. Friends gift each other roses. The mother of my favorite student gifted me a rose. Parents gift children books. It’s about boy to girl and girl to boy, not necessarily boyfriend to girlfriend and girlfriend to boyfriend.
Hallmark, take note: All you really need to feel a bit of love is a book and a rose. Also maybe consider shifting Valentine’s Day to April. Everything’s happier and lovelier in spring.