Spaeth: The Catalan Valentine’s Day, Sant Jordi
Every year as the winter holidays come to a close, the general public collectively cringes as Valentine’s Day approaches. The Hallmark holiday is criticized for being superficial and ‘extra.’ It has become not the holiday of love, but the day of forgotten gifts and forever alone memes. Not exactly what St. Valentine was expecting. If you forgot to buy your significant other a V-day gift or if you are just looking to boycott the classic holiday traditions, here is a look at how Barcelona, land of fiery romance and large unfinished churches, celebrates.
Although not a traditional holiday in Spain, Barcelona still celebrates a version of Valentine’s Day sans the cheesy heart merch. In Barcelona it is typical to celebrate love on April 23, La Diada de Sant Jordi — or St. George Day. On Sant Jordi, the people of Catalan celebrate romance and loved ones. Many centuries ago, it is said that a small village lived in terror of a menacing dragon living nearby. Every day the people sacrificed sheep and cattle to appease the dragon until inevitably, they ran out of livestock. The dragon threatened to destroy the village if they did not continue to provide him with gifts. The people decided to start sacrificing their children. They put all the names of the village’s children into a hat and pulled out the name of the unfortunate child to be sacrificed to the dragon. They pulled the first name and the people were horrified to see that the king’s daughter was to be given to the dragon. The legend states that a handsome knight, outraged, followed the daughter to the dragon’s lair, determined to bring the king his daughter back. This knight was named Sant Jordi, and in a blaze of glory he slayed the dragon, saving the damsel and returning to the village a hero. From the blood of the slayed dragon blossomed a rose tree. Jordi picked the biggest, most beautiful rose and gave it to the princess. This sparked the Catalonian tradition of men giving their beloved princesses a red rose on La Diada de Sant Jordi.
It is a beautiful tradition, and now every year on April 23, the streets of Barcelona blossom with color as street vendors fill their shops with roses of every color. The most traditional is a red rose, the color of love, but this holiday is not limited to lovers. Men buy roses for friends, mothers and daughters, and shops sell an array of roses so there is a rose for every girl in the city.
Men are not the only ones who give gifts on La Diada de Sant Jordi. The ladies are actually tasked with the tougher job. Buying candy or flowers is always appreciated, but in Barcelona, they buy something more personal for their loved ones. The women of Barcelona scour the book shops looking for either their favorite book or the perfect book for their special someone. Along with street shops selling roses there are hundreds of pop up book shops lining the streets of the Passeig de Gràcia, the Barcelona city center. Authors from all over are invited so that shoppers can get their favorite books signed. The tradition of book giving is said to be have started because April 23 is Shakespeare’s birthday. These traditions have kindled a Catalonian saying, “A rose for love and a book forever.”
These traditions are not widespread in America. But if you have been procrastinating on finding a gift for your significant other, or just want to brighten up a friends Valentine’s Day, buy them a rose or give them one of your favorite books and relay the Catalonian legend of the dragon and the rose.
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