We Brits love Spain, 17.8 million of us holidayed there in 2016 (according to travel market analysts GfK) a record high. Fear as a result of terrorism, in France, Turkey, Egypt and North Africa, is most probably a factor behind this increased popularity. But not far behind the sun and sangria, Spain is in a quagmire of it’s own issues, is spitting and splitting. Catalonia’s recent bid for independence and the government’s heavy handed response (900 reportedly injured by police in riot gear) shows us this is a nation divided – regionally, culturally and historically. Today five Catalan leaders in exile in Brussels, eight others in jail under investigation for rebellion and Catalonia is under direct rule from Madrid.
Despite, or perhaps because of, it’s historic divisions, Spain has a national flower, the Red Carnation, Dianthus Caryophyllus. For the Spanish, Clavel, has since Medieval times held a religious and cultural significance; as window box decoration (particularly in Audulusia and Aragon), as hair accessory for the Flamenco dancer; as romantic motif – held in the mouth of a proposing lover (while playing Spanish guitar under their window); as consolation for bullfighters, as symbol for a Catholic parade. Red then for love, sincerity and blood.
One of the world’s oldest cultivated flowers and long revered as the “flower of gods” – “Dianthus” is thought to come from the ancient Greek for divine (“dios”) and flower (“anthos”). Some believe “carnation” comes from “coronation” or “corone” (flower garlands), to describe the flowers used in Greek ceremonial crowns. Others think it’s origins rather more feisty – and perhaps more fitting to the Spanish character – according to Greek mythology the flower was born from a fit of temper – Diana the Goddess came upon a shepherd boy and took a liking to him. But the boy, for some reason, turned her down. Diana in a hissy fit ripped out his eyes and threw them to the ground – where they sprouted into the Dianthus flower. Others say they are the tears of the Virgin Mary, crying for her son Jesus, whilst he carried the Cross – a Christian symbol of a mother’s enduring love.
Carnations in those early times were mainly found in shades of pale pink and peach, but over the centuries cultivation has led to many other colours – from red to yellow, white, purple, and even green – there are stripey and mini versions too . Today Carnations are cultivated for their prettily frilly heads, lovely scent, and long flowering life (they bloom for up to eight weeks).
For the Victorians the differing colours were useful ways to convey different sentiments. So light red carnations meant admiration. Dark red, love and affection. Pink, gratitude. White, purity. Yellow, disappointment or rejection and Purple capriciousness.
Here we’re a bit mean about the carnation – it’s often thought a bit naff (a forlorn table adornment in a restaurant trying to be romantic), common (ubiquitous in a supermarket bouquet) and twee (and out of fashion). But the world is much more appreciative; in China carnations are the most popular wedding flower, in Japan and Korea children give their parents red ones for love and respect. In America they are a popular Mother’s Day gift because Anna Jarvis (the founder) used Carnations, her mother’s favourite flower, at the first Mother’s Day celebration. The leading exporter for the American market is Columbia, whilst in Europe, Israel is the leading grower and supplier.
As Spain is forced to take a long look at itself (elections are due to take place on December 21st) it may want to look again at it’s national flower. The carnation is multi-various, multi-farious (decorative, edible, medicinal) and multi-sexual (has both female and male parts) and whilst durable, are also rather delicate. There’s a custom in Spain to bring carnations to parties and family gatherings, more recently they have become a symbol of left wing activism. But by encouraging the giving of this flower, to everyone, in its many shades and varieties – the Spanish might find a political and national coherence. By rejoicing in it’s differences then, rather than stamping hard on them, to find a new definition of Spain.
Featured Image: https://en.radiofarda.com/