The legend of Sant Jordi alive and kicking

There is a special feel to the streets of Catalonia on 23rd April as for one day locals set aside their daily concerns to celebrate a unique tradition: Sant Jordi’s Day. Every 23rd April is awash with the colour of roses and the gleaming jackets of books hot off the presses. Tradition dictates that today is the day men give their loved ones a rose and in return women buy men a book. The results are spectacular as around 7 million roses and 1.7 million books are sold in the space of a single day.

CNA / Laura Fabregat

April 23, 2012 08:50 PM

Barcelona (ACN) .– The 23rd  April is a special day in world literature for two reasons. Firstly it commemorates the death of Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare, who died with a difference of only a few hours on 22nd and 23rd April of 1616. In addition, it is also Sant Jordi’s Day (Saint George’s Day), quite possibly one of the most extraordinary days in the Catalan calendar as the streets are packed with fresh roses, book stands and couples eager to share a romantic moment. In order to understand this unique day, we have to go back in time…

Once upon a time, a fierce dragon threatened Montblanc, one of the most important medieval towns in Catalonia. The creature lived in a cave on the outskirts of the village and every day climbed down to the town centre creating havoc wherever it went. In awe of the monster, the citizens reached the conclusion that every day one of the townspeople was to be sacrificed to abate the dragon’s hunger. In order to decide who was to be sacrificed, a simple draw was held.

However, one day the Princess of the town was drawn. The King begged his daughter not to sacrifice herself but she did not want to break her promise with the townspeople and prepared for death. As she was about to meet her fate, a handsome knight rode into town on a white horse bearing a sword and shield and saved her just in time. The knight was not only handsome but brave and astute as well and slew the dragon. When he nailed his sword into the animal, the dragon shed a huge amount of blood which seeped into the land. The blooded land offered up beautiful red roses and the knight gave one of them to the Princess.

The Catalan Saint Valentine’s

This tale forms part of Catalan tradition and offers the backdrop to what we know today as St Jordi’s Day. Every 23rd April, any visitor can observe Catalans walking around their towns and villages loaded down with books and roses. St Jordi’s Day could be defined as a homegrown Catalan version of St Valentine’s Day as it is without doubt the most romantic day of the year. Tradition dictates that men have to give roses to women, while women must buy books for men. Nowadays, tradition has evolved and adapted to current times: everybody gives books to the people they care about, no matter the genre. Besides, many sons give flowers to their mothers, grand-mothers, sisters, aunts, friends or work colleagues, although the most especial rose remains that given to one’s lover or partner.

Although we can’t confirm that artist John Paul Young was inspired by the St Jordi’s legend when he sung “love is in the air, it is everywhere I look around”, but it could easily have been the case. Although the tradition extends throughout Catalonia, with roses and books stands in many streets and squares, its focal point is Les Rambles in the heart of Barcelona as passers-by, couples of all ages and street sellers converge to offer books of all types and roses of all different colors.

7 million roses sold

St Jordi’s Day, known in Catalan as ‘La Diada de Sant Jordi’, is a key date for florists as traders expect to sell 7 million roses on just one day. 30% of these roses are locally produced (most are from the Maresme County, just north of Barcelona) while the remaining 70% are cultivated abroad, above all in Colombia and Ecuador. Experts point out the excellent quality of locally-produced roses this year thanks to the cold weather in February.

1.7 million books sold

The publishing sector also hopes to boost sales today. Indeed, many new publications, both Catalan and Spanish, are expressly issued to coincide with this date. The director of bookstore company ‘La Casa del Libro’, Félix Férnandez de Gabriel said, “La Diada is an important date in the calendar for us as it is one of the days with the greatest sales”. Many bookstores make up to 7% or 8% of their year’s takings on this one day. As for the biggest-selling books, Fernández de Gabriel said he expects titles such as El Imperio eres tú (The Empire is you) by Javier Moro, Las Horas Distantes (The Distant Hours) by Kate Morton, El Prisionero del Cielo (The Prisoner of Heaven) by world-renowned Barcelona author Carlos Ruiz Zafón and the popular trilogy The Hunger Games by George R.R. Martin to be on the best seller list. Furthermore Catalan literature new releases such as Jo confesso (I Confess) by Jaume Cabré, La dona veloç (The Fast Woman) by Imma Monsó, Crims de Sang (Blood Crimes) by Sebastià Alzamora, or Quan érem feliços (When we Were Happy) by Rafel Nadal are also expected to be on top of the lists.

If you are a lover of literature or quite simply wish to live a very special day, you should head down on to streets of Catalan towns on 23rd April. The legend may be just that, a legend, but the tale of St Jordi’s exploits and the slaying of the dragon firmly live on.