Roses? Books? Perhaps a little wine too, over a lingering lunch?
If you've ever considered coming to Barcelona (arguably the most romantic city in the world) I highly recommend visiting during La Diada de Sant Jordi. Your heart will melt with the beauty of it all.
According to tradition, Sant Jordi slew a dragon to save a princess. From the dragon's blood, a rose bush bloomed! Sant Jordi plucked one of those special red roses and gave it to the princess.
It just so happens that Sant Jordi (St. George) is the patron saint of Catalunya. Every year on April 23rd the entire state celebrates his mythical victory warmly.
And so, it has long been customary for the men of Catalunya to give the special ladies in their lives red roses each year on La Diada de Sant Jordi.
This tradition later merged with El Día Internacional Del Libro, the international day of the book... a celebration related to the 'death day' of Miguel de Cervantes (widely regarded worldwide as the "Shakespeare" of all Spanish authors). Cervantes died on April 22... so El Día Internacional Del Libro falls near that day every year.
If your honey hands you a red rose, the more recent Catalan tradition is for you to give them a book in return.
(My more progressive Spanish friends give books AND roses to their partners on this day, regardless of gender or sexual identity. I like this more modern take on the holiday, as I personally love to read just as much as I love red roses, and there's no reason why my husband wouldn't enjoy a rose. I was very touched when Señor Aventura offered me an author-signed Spanish language book from the St. Moritz brewery book faire.)
With the merging of Sant Jordi and El Día Internacional Del Libro, the city of Barcelona itself becomes almost a romance novel itself on April 23rd!
There are festivals in many barrios, including book signings by famous Spanish and Latin authors... beergarten parties... craftspeople selling wares covered in handmade roses... private (closed) city buildings open for free to the public... book stalls open all over the Barcelona... and a sea of red roses. You can also enjoy special musical performances, dramatic re-enactments and much more.
Everywhere you look, people are celebrating. As we got into our elevator to head downstairs we encountered a family on their way up to visit our neighbors. The woman was carrying a beautiful handmade cake covered in roses made of pinkish red icing. Her husband was carrying six individually wrapped long-stemmed red roses, presumably to give to their family members or friends. The children each carried small roses and the little girl also held a stuffed dragon!
"Feliz Diada de Sant Jordi!" we smiled at each other.
From the moment we left our building, our family could sense that there was something really different about the city.
"Mom, I've already counted 13 rose stands and we've only walked four blocks!" The Scientist announced as we left our house and headed toward the metro. Indeed, rose vendors and book sellers had cropped up overnight everywhere along the street. They were parked on every single corner!
As the day wore on we encountered literally hundreds of rose stands and scores of book markets throughout the city! The famous street of Las Ramblas was so crowded we could barely push our way through the sea of people engulfing (delighted) local book sellers.
I loved that many of the stands were donating their proceeds to UNICEF and other humanitarian or environmental organizations. Buying a red rose felt even better than normal because you knew that your money was benefiting a worthy cause.
It was such a feel-good day! Between the bright sunshine and excellent weather, cheerful people milling the streets, and evidence of creativity and love brimming over from nearly every store, market and restaurant in El Raval and El Barri Gotic... Barcelona was out-of-this-world beautiful. It exuded a special, extra kind of magic.
We saw women dressed as princesses and men dressed as dragons or knights... along with women dressed as dragons too! (I think I even saw one man dressed as a princess!) People were clearly having a lot of fun with the Sant Jordi theme.
I'd presented my handsome husband with a thick book of interesting bicycle tours... including challenging stages from various races around Europe complete with their exact routes. He loved it!
In return he bought me a beautiful blue bottle decorated with a chalk inscription, a lovely red rose, and a medallion necklace. Our kids enjoyed handmade chocolates, roses and hot cocoa. We ate lunch out and spent the entire day celebrating together!
Schools in Barcelona also celebrate La Diada de Sant Jordi. They feted the holiday in style at our children's school with a poetry writing contest in four languages (English, Catalan, Spanish and Chinese) intended to honor Miguel de Cervantes.
Last Tuesday Señor Aventura and I received an urgent telephone call from their school requesting that we attend a special assembly the next day for Soccer Dude, as he had won an important award that would be presented in front of an audience.
Little did we know how splendid and emotional the ceremony would be! In celebration of Sant Jordi, pairs of older students (male and female) dressed in tuxedoes and fancy gowns descended the aisles of the auditorium carrying roses for the younger children.
It felt and looked like an 'academy awards ceremony' for child authors! The Catalan teenagers entered slowly in procession to a Coldplay song, sat patiently throughout the hour-long ceremony and bestowed roses, kisses, hugs and massive awards upon the younger students for their poetry and stories about friendship, love and Sant Jordi and the dragon.
The school requested that we leave the award a surprise, so our little man had no idea until the moment they announced his name that he had won first place for a poem he'd written in English about friendship and his best buddy Mini-Müller. Wow, first place!
Soccer Dude was more than amazed and delighted... he was shaking when they called him on stage and asked him to present his poem in front of the entire audience of over 200 parents and children. Yet, he rose to the occasion and gave the poem clearly and in a loud voice, even re-adding the correct words that the school had accidentally erased when they typed up his original poem.
I think giving that surprise presentation will be one of the seminal memories of Soccer Dude's young life! We plan to frame his poetry award as a special reminder of this holiday, his hard work, and the amazing city that we've fallen so in love with.
All in all, La Diada de Sant Jordi brought joy to our entire family. Better than Valentine's day, Sant Jordi felt infused with romance for everyone ~ not just couples.
"I wish you an amazing holiday of Sant Jordi," smiled the quirky, fabulous perfume maker who sold Little Angel and I tiny vials of 'rose' and 'dragon's blood' perfume along the cobblestone street. "May you have an adventure today that you never forget, treasure the petals of a beautiful rose, and also discover a very special book!"
Gliding through a city full of romantics, this holiday easily captured our hearts.
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