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    The literary romantic holiday that should replace Valentine’s Day.

    Drew Broussard

    April 23, 2024, 9:54am

    I’ve never really liked Valentine’s Day. Some of that is probably down to being a shy nerdy kid who couldn’t get a date to the Snow Dance—but, at the risk of sounding even more like Charlie Brown, the holiday is just so horribly commercial. It doesn’t really feel, to me, like it’s celebrating romance so much as it’s celebrating Hallmark and chocolates and outdated gender roles.

    Shortly after I met my wife Dani, who also isn’t hugely fond of the pageantry around Valentine’s Day, I chanced upon the opening story in Helen Oyeyemi’s collection What is Not Yours is Not Yours. Titled “Books and Roses,” it’s a typically Oyeyemian story with layered and shifting narration—but a few lines hit me like a kiss:

    The lovers spent Christmas together, then parted – Lucy for Grenoble, and Safiye for Barcelona. They wrote to each other care of their cities’ central post offices, and at the beginning of April Safiye wrote of the romance of St Jordi’s Day. Lucy, it is the custom here to exchange books and roses each year on April 23rd. Shall we?

    It just so happened that I was reading the story in early April 2015, and I suggested to Dani (we’d been dating for barely six months at that point; talk about going out on a limb) that we do the same. Nine years later, we’ve turned it into our favorite and arguably most-romantic holiday tradition—and I’m here to convince you that it should also become yours.

    April 23rd is better known in the English-speaking world as St. George’s Day—yes, he who slew the dragon, the patron saint of England (as well as Greece, Romania, and Catalonia)—but the holiday has little to do with the saint, who would not appear to have been a great reader or patron of the literary arts. Instead, the date comes from the birth of International Book Day, which was started in Spain in 1923 and April 23rd was chosen because it just so happens to be the day that both Shakespeare and Cervantes died in 1616 (ed. note: it’s now widely accepted that Cervantes actually died the day before and was buried on the 23rd, but why let facts get in the way of a good story), as well as William Wordsworth in 1850. UNESCO also declared April 23rd World Book & Copyright Day in 1995!

    The traditional (gendered) celebration is that a man gives roses to the significant women in his life while the women bestow books on their men—how quaint, how gendered, how unnecessarily so! Toss that rot right out the window, because everybody loves flowers AND everybody loves books—and don’t feel like you have to do roses, either. The last few years, my wife and I have given each other flowers from the first round of blooms of the Hudson Valley spring: daffodils, forsythia, magnolia sprigs. We’ve also never given each other any particularly romantic books—I’ve received graphic novels, John Wray, Jenny Odell, and I’ve given a collection of Short Stack recipes, Meg Wolitzer, Strange Planet—but therein lies the secret: anything can be romantic, if you’re getting it from the person you love.

    Give it a shot this year! Rush to your local independent bookstore, stop by your local grocer or florist or park, and surprise somebody you love today—it’ll become a tradition before you even know it.

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