Sant Jordi on the 23rd of April, one of Catalonia’s most beloved days

Since the 15th century, Catalonia has been celebrating the feast day of Sant Jordi (Saint George) on the 23rd of April. Each year, people flock to the streets to celebrate this Catalan equivalent to Valentine’s Day. Traditionally, on Sant Jordi’s Day men presented their lovers with roses, while women gave their lovers a book in return. Today, both men and women give roses and books to their friends, family, and partners as a way to celebrate love and literature. More than 500 activities related to Sant Jordi and literature will be held all over Catalonia, although Barcelona is set to be the epicentre, with hundreds of stalls selling roses, bookshops taking their catalogue to the squares and renowned writers signing their novelties and meeting their fans. In the last years, Sant Jordi has also gained international recognition and will be celebrated in more than 40 countries all over the globe.

Close-up of a rose, one of the symbols of Sant Jordi's Day (by ACN)
Close-up of a rose, one of the symbols of Sant Jordi's Day (by ACN) / ACN


April 19, 2016 07:19 PM

Barcelona (CNA).- For centuries, Catalonia has been celebrating love and literature on the 23rd of April to pay tribute to the patron saint of Catalonia, Sant Jordi (Saint George). Each year, stalls line the streets selling books and roses for people to buy and give to their loved ones as a symbol of their friendship and love. Although the beloved Catalan tradition was started in the 15th century based on the legend surrounding Sant Jordi, today new festivities are added each year to celebrate Catalonia’s patron saint, as well as the deaths of Cervantes and Shakespeare. Since 1995 when UNESCO recognised the 23rd of April as World Book Day, the festival has gained a growing number of celebrators from around the world who want to partake in the festivities and exchange gifts with their beloved friends, family, and partners. Thus, more than 500 activities related to Sant Jordi and literature will be held all over Catalonia throughout the week and more than 40 countries all over the globe will also celebrate Sant Jordi.

The Rose Day

While Valentine’s Day is more globally thought of as the main day for love, in Catalonia Sant Jordi’s Day takes the spotlight. Although not a national public holiday, the feast day is often marked by the exchange of roses between loved ones. The tradition itself comes from a legend wherein Sant Jordi is said to have slayed a dragon to save a princess from being sacrificed. Legend has it that where the dragon’s blood was spilled, a rose bush sprouted. Sant Jordi plucked a rose, and gave it to the princess as a symbol of his love and affection. Although the festival was cancelled due to political repression in 1714, it was reinstated alongside other self-governing bodies of Catalonia in 1914, and has been publicly celebrated with fervour ever since.

While the rose has become emblematic of this feast day, it’s also a huge day of business for flower markets around Catalonia and the world. In Catalonia, Mercabarna-Flor plans to sell close to 2 million roses on Sant Jordi’s Day for about €4 to €12 each depending on the quality and presentation.

This year, 30 different varieties of roses both native to Catalonia and imported from countries like Ecuador, Colombia, and the Netherlands will be sold. In years past, Mercabarna-Flor has gotten creative with its arrangements that include accessories like the CDs, wires, and keyboards seen in last year’s ‘TecnoRose’. But, this year President of the Association of the Wholesalers Mercabarna-Flor Miquel Batlle said the trend is “to present the rose in the most natural way possible”, without many plastic or unnatural embellishments in the arrangement.

International Book Day

While Sant Jordi’s Day is a major selling day for anyone in the flower business, it’s also become an important international day for anyone writing, publishing, or editing books. This year, book sales may be higher on Sant Jordi’s Day, as a new study conducted by the Publishers Guild of Catalonia shows that more people in Catalonia are reading. The study’s numbers reflect that 66.3% of Catalans consider themselves readers — up 4% from the study’s 2011 results. Additionally, the study shows that people in Catalonia buy an average of 7 books per year, and read 10.3 books per year on average.

While the rose has always been a part of traditional Sant Jordi’s Day celebrations, books didn’t become part of the exchange until 1926 when Valencia writer and Barcelona editor Vicente Clavel realised that the feast day also coincided with the deaths of Cervantes and Shakespeare on the 23rd of April in 1616. With this realisation, Clavel urged those in the publishing community and the public to give books as well as roses as a way to celebrate the day.

The idea was welcomed with open arms, and the festival has grown in its popularity ever since UNESCO named the 23rd of April as World Book Day in 1995. Now, the feast day is celebrated in over 50 locations all over the world such as Tokyo, New York, Paris, and London.