“A rose for love and a book forever”. Books, roses and romanticism are the main characters of Sant Jordi, an important day for the Catalan nation dedicated to literature and love.
On the 23rd of April, the whole Catalonia is dressed in red. La Diada de Sant Jordi (The Festivity of Saint George) has arrived. It’s a day to honour the co-patron saint of Catalonia, Sant Jordi, but it has also become a day dedicated to love and literature.
For the Catalans, it’s the most romantic day of the year, like a Catalan version of Saint Valentine. During that day, the tradition is that men give roses to women, while women give men books. All the streets and squares of Catalan cities are full of book and roses stalls. Couples walking hand-in-hand, guys giving red roses to their beloved ones, and groups of friends deciding which book they’re going to buy are some of the typical scenes during this spring day. On average, 4 million roses and 500,000 books are sold in Catalonia every year.
Most of the roses given are red, according to the tradition, but over the last years you can find them in all kinds of colours, even a rainbow multicoloured one! They are normally wrapped in ribbons in the colours of La Senyera (the Catalan flag) and come together with a spike of wheat.
The red roses
Sant Jordi’s day is celebrated to commemorate the death of Saint George in the year 303 AD. He became the symbol of Catalonia during the 19th century, when the cultural and political movement known as Renaissance reclaimed the symbols of Catalan identity.
Saint George is also the patron of many other countries, such as England, Greece and Romania, among others. Each country has its own version of this legend but it is believed that all of them come from a soldier that was born in Greece around the year 280 AD. He was executed for his Christian beliefs during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, becoming a martyr and a saint among Christians.
The legend of Sant Jordi is truly a fairytale of a beautiful princess, a knight in a white horse and the horrific dragon, full of love, honour and heroism. The Catalan version of the legend tells that long time ago, there was a terrible dragon terrorising the small village of Montblanc, nearby Barcelona. All the citizens were extremely scared and decided to feed the dragon to calm his anger. However, he ate a lot and the city was running out of animals to give to him. Trying the find a solution, the inhabitants of the village came up with the idea of sacrificing one person every day, chosen by drawing lots. The problem came when one day, the chosen person was the king’s daughter. She was a beautiful princess and even though she was the daughter of the king, she was like any other inhabitant and so, she decided to make the effort to keep the dragon quiet and calmed. Just at the right moment that she was going to be swallowed by the terrific dragon, a brave knight in a white horse appeared. He was Sant Jordi. He fought against the dragon and killed him with his lance. Finally, he gave the princess a red rose that he took from the rose bush that sprouted just in the exact spot where the red blood of the dragon had spilled.
Since then, it has been a tradition in Catalonia to give a red rose to your loved one. But not only couples do this, nowadays roses are also given to familiars, friends and lovers, regardless of their gender, to demonstrate your affection and love to them.
The book tradition during this day doesn’t come from Saint George itself. It comes from the international World Book day, which started in Spain in 1923. The date coincides with the death of two worldwide famous writers in 1616, the Spanish Miguel de Cervantes and the English William Shakespeare. In 1995, the the UNESCO declared the 23rd of April as the UNESCO World Book & Copyright day.
During Sant Jordi’s day, hundreds of stalls sell new and old books with special offers. Also, there are always book readings by famous Catalan and Spanish authors as well as well-known authors signing copies of their last publications.
The role of the books in the festivity is so big that in 2016 Barcelona became a UNESCO City of Literature and since then, it’s part of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network together with other cities in which literature is part of their cultural creativity, such as Edinburgh, Krakow and Prague.
Although the festive atmosphere, Sant Jordi is not an official public holiday in Catalonia. Therefore, shops and restaurants are open as usual. The main streets become extremely busy during midday and the evening, when people is out of work.
At many attractions in Barcelona you can see the cult of Sant Jordi during the 23rd of April. For example, Casa Batlló dresses its facade with red roses. Another important building worth to visit during this day is the City Hall, located in Plaça Sant Jaume. The building is open to the general public and you can visit areas that are normally closed. To see all the things happening in Barcelona during Sant Jordi’s day, check the city’s dedicated page.