A rose and a book come together on Sant Jordi, Source: Depositphotos

Catalonia celebrates Sant Jordi

Catalonia celebrates Sant Jordi

The festivity is also known as the Day of Books and Roses

Sant Jordi is one of those peculiar traditional festivals that define the identity of a nation in a quirky way. Every year, on 23 April, Catalans honour Saint George (Jordi is the local version of his name) with books and roses – of all things.

Each district in Barcelona and all towns in the region open lines of stands selling only those two items. The custom now dictates that men receive a book, and women receive a rose, however, nowadays this is considered a bit sexist so now any gender is entitled to give or receive any of the two objects.

The streets get filled with people walking around stalls, looking for a gift for their beloved, and for their family and friends too. It goes without saying that Sant Jordi is a great day for writers, book publishers and florists, as it is often their most profitable day of the year.

How did that unusual festivity come to be?

In 2017, Catalan activists proposed to UNESCO to put the Sant Jordi festival on its intangible cultural heritage list, but one wonders how it all began and what books and roses have to do with the saint in question.

The festival in its current form only dates back to 1931, which makes it a modern type of tradition.

Honouring Sant Jordi as a saint, however, has a long tradition among Catalans dating back to the Middle Ages. Known as a dragon slayer and a princess-saver, the legend says that the drops of dragon blood blossomed into roses, which he presented to the lady. This chivalrous act earned him the status of Catalonia’s patron saint already in 1456.

The book part, however, came much later. Initially, it was a Valencian writer by the name of Vicente Clavel who fought for the idea to have all of Spain celebrate Book Day to honour the country’s literary heritage. The idea was approved in 1926, and the chosen day was 7 October – the birthday of Miguel de Cervantes.

Five years later though, booksellers requested that Book Day would be celebrated on 23 April to mark the anniversary of the deaths of Cervantes and Shakespeare. Catalans, in particular, liked that combination of gifting both roses and books and decided to make it permanent. And there you have it.

Meanwhile, in 1995, UNESCO did declare 23 April as World Book Day, so even if you’re not Catalan you can open the pages of a book on that day and feel part of the wider global reading brotherhood.



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