Yesterday was Sant Jordi’s Day here in Catalunya in Spain – it’s the equivalent of our Saint Valentine’s Day in the UK, but this is an altogether different kind of celebration, one which I wish we could echo. I was lucky enough to experience my first with Anna, my partner in life and love, in the coastal town of Vilanova I La Geltru
There are many differences that make this day such a special experience, one which is far freer of the commercialism and cynicism that seems now far more obvious to me about St Valentines.
For one, here, as in so many of their traditions, it is much more of a community event. Many towns here have a Rambla (and Vilanova has one of the longest in Spain) where it is customary to wonder the street, meet friends and family, have a coffee and enjoy the sunshine and the atmosphere. It’s a fabulous vibe on most days, but on Sant Jordi’s its’ even more special. The street is lined with stalls selling roses – and books. Here, the tradition is to buy not just a rose, but also a book for your loved ones You wonder down the avenue together in the company of thousands, all celebrating each other, love and life.
The original tradition springs from the legend of Sant Jordi – and the story is similar to our own legend of Saint George, the dragon slayer. But in the case of Sant Jordi, after he has saved his Princess and slayed the dragon, a rose grows from the blood of the dragon’s heart. So on the anniversary of this day it has been the custom for a man to buy a rose for their Princess and for their Princess in return to buy a book for them.
But it has now become more of a celebration of love for everyone, not just romantic love, but of love generally. You see everyone carrying roses, men, women, children – and pets!! This is as much about expressing familial love or friendship as the love you feel for your partner. In the UK, Valentines Day has become way too much of a pressure, particularly in heterosexual relationships, to spend a fortune making grand gestures to prove the power of your love. Here, it is far more about the thought. The tradition is to buy just one rose, but to choose it carefully for its meaning. It will probably cost you no more than 3 euros.
For the flower, your choice might be about the meaning of colour, red, white, yellow, even blue!! Or you might make your selection based on the charity or foundation that the sellers are supporting; humanitarian, animals, politics, religion, education and many other causes that you and your loved ones might like to support.
And then there is the book. I absolutely love this as a way of sharing not just your love for each other, but your life. Every book, whether a fictional story or a non fiction work, offers something valuable. Whether it be a lesson, history, information or simply entertainment. Wondering by the book stalls and seeing people thinking about the books they will buy is a joyful experience.
For the whole day wondering through the city, you see everyone with roses, no age, gender, persuasion, race, relationship status or even species excepted. It is a day of celebration of love and life, it is a day in which you see and feel so much expression of it that it is literally true to say that love is in the air. And the simplicity of it is extraordinary. To enjoy it; to feel it; all you have to do is walk down the street and just breathe.