A Quick Guide to Sant Jordi: Celebrating the Day of Books and Roses
Posted On April 23, 2016
Every April 23, Barcelona (and all of Catalonia) becomes filled with bookstalls and roses on the most romantic day of the year! Locals celebrate the day of Sant Jordi (Saint George), the patron saint of Catalonia by rummaging through the many stands in search of the perfect book and stopping for a vermouth or tapa along the way. Roses are adorned with ribbons in the Catalan colors and you can see the white shield with a red cross, the symbol of Sant Jordi throughout the city.
Similar to Valentine’s day in the United States, which is rooted in both Christian (Saint Valentine) and ancient Roman traditions, the day of Sant Jordi originates from the Middle Ages. Due to western influence, some Catalan youngsters celebrate Valentine’s day as well, but Sant Jordi is equally focused on the romance as it is on the act of exchange and books. UNESCO has named April 23 World Book and Copyright Day partially in honor of the Catalan tradition, but also the death of Shakespeare and many other important events in literature which occurred on the same day.
Books and roses? How did this all begin?
As the legend goes, Sant Jordi saves a princess from a fire breathing dragon who was terrorizing her village. After slaying the dragon through the heart and rescuing the dame, a pool of blood formed and a rose bush emerged. The knight plucked a single rose from the bush and bestowed it upon the princess (they never ended up together, but wishful thinking never hurts). Today, couples, friends and family members exchange roses, which are given to women and books, which are given to men. The addition of giving someone a book was added much later in the 1920s.
There could be a Sant Jordi event near you!
The #BooksAndRoses project promises to spread this special tradition and the love of literature to the world. Last year 130 events took place in more than 40 countries! Take a look at their website to search for events.
In Catalonia, more books are sold on April 23 than any other day of the year, more than 500,000 of them!
Up to six million roses are sold for Sant Jordi, many imported to keep up with demand.
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of Don Quixote and William Wordsworth, famous English poet both died on April 23 as well.
Saint George is also the patron saint of England.
Today, it’s common for women to also receive books as well as roses.
Where to visit
Most of the book stalls will be set up in the city center along Las Ramblas and Passeig de Grácia. These areas get really crowded during peak hours and if you’re looking for a book in English, it can be quite difficult. On the other hand, there are all kinds of stalls to look at, from self-published books, children’s books, collectables or comics. All the big Spanish publishing houses will have a stand with their new releases, making a great gift for someone back home who reads Spanish or Catalan.
The Barcelona city hall in Plaça de Sant Jaume will open its doors on April 23, where visitors can see special rooms not normally open to the public.
Many famous Catalan and international authors will have signings in Plaça Catalunya. Check out signs posted there for the timetable and don’t forget to bring or buy their book!
Visit the fountain of Sant Jordi in the cloister of the Barcelona Cathedral.