Romance, Roses and Literature: Traditions of Catalonia’s Sant Jordi Festival

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Casa Batlló celebrates Sant Jordi with roses
Casa Batlló celebrates Sant Jordi with roses, photo via @dariovero_

When you think of St George’s Day, the first idea that comes to mind is something that it is celebrated by the English. In Catalonia, however, the Diada de Sant Jordi is an important holiday that is comparable to Valentine’s Day. It is a day where friends and lovers alike share their love and appreciation for each other. It is also sometimes known as the Day of the Rose or Day of the Book.

What can you expect to see?

Book vendors on Barcelona's La Rambla
Book vendors on Barcelona’s La Rambla

A stroll through any street in Barcelona is like walking through a romantic filmset. On this day, you will see couples holding hands, meandering the streets. The sidewalks are temporarily transformed into outdoor book shops with scores of vendors selling novels and love stories from small tents. You will also see roses of all colours and quantities being sold by vendors on streets and even Casa Batlló dresses up its façade with red roses.

The legend of Sant Jordi

Sant Jordi kills the dragon and saves the princess
Sant Jordi kills the dragon and saves the princess

The legend of Sant Jordi is popular all over Europe and the location changes depending on which country or area you hear it. As the legend goes, there was once a dragon attacking the land and to prevent it from wreaking havoc on the village, the townsfolk decided the sacrifice two lambs a day. Once the animals became scarce, they started sending a person (drawn randomly) along with a lamb. At one point, the princess is drawn to be sacrificed and at the mouth of the dragon’s cave, she encounters a gentleman by the name of Jordi (George). Jordi slays the dragon with his sword and a rosebush appears from the blood that flows from the lifeless beast. He plucks a red rose from the bush and hands it to the princess. This is where the tradition of giving roses to girls stems from.

What are the traditions?

Roses and books are exchanged on St George's Day
Roses and books are exchanged on St George’s Day

On St George’s Day (Diada de Sant Jordi) it is tradition that sweethearts exchange gifts. In the past, it was typical for the men to give roses to the women and for women to gift the man a book. Now, both men and women gift books as well as roses. The tradition of giving roses comes from the medieval times with St George slaying the dragon, however the book gifting is relatively new and was created by a book seller to commemorate the deaths of two great authors William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes on April 23rd, 1616.

Thanks to Catalonia, UNESCO declared April 23rd as World Book Day In 1995. What do you think of the Sant Jordi celebration?

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