Sun brightens up Sant Jordi

After a greyish morning, Catalans enjoy clear skies as festivities continue for the day of books and roses

More people take to the streets to celebrate Sant Jordi in Tarragona as sun shines (by Eloi Tost)
More people take to the streets to celebrate Sant Jordi in Tarragona as sun shines (by Eloi Tost) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

April 23, 2019 03:33 PM

After a greyish morning, the sun started to shine in Barcelona and other Catalan towns enticing thousands of people out onto the streets to celebrate Sant Jordi, with books, roses, and love all around.

Although a working day in the country, many people are making time for a stroll in city and town centers to browse stands selling the latest–and oldest–hits from publishers, with plenty of authors signing books or chatting with readers, and all sort of stalls selling roses.

As it is every year, Barcelona's La Rambla boulevard, along with many other places in the city center, is set to be crowded for most of the day.

Without doubt, Sant Jordi is the year's top romantic celebration in Catalonia, and a very unique festival catering for all ages.

President's first Sant Jordi Day message

President Quim Torra began the day by giving his first ever Sant Jordi Day message, in which he called on the international community to help find a democratic solution to the ongoing political conflict in Catalonia.

Speaking in English, Torra argued that democracy "cannot tolerate the voice of the people being silenced with violence and threats," in reference to the response to the 2017 independence bid on behalf of the Spanish authorities.

With a bunch of yellow roses behind him -yellow has become the symbol of solidarity with jailed independence leaders being tried in the Supreme Court- Torra called for "freedom" for the imprisoned and exiled leaders.

Why is Sant Jordi such a special celebration?

April 23 is one of Catalonia's most important dates of the year, as it's the day that the country celebrates its patron, Sant Jordi (Saint George), and does so in its own unique way.

One of the stars of Sant Jordi's Day is the rose, as the custom dating back to the Middle Ages is for people to gift loved ones with a book.

April 23 always sees streets all over Catalonia decked out with flower and book stalls, as millions turn out in the (usually) fine spring sunshine to browse the stalls for a love token.

While the tradition of gifting a rose on Sant Jordi goes back to the 15th century, the custom of giving books was introduced in the 1930s to promote book sales.

Recently, Sant Jordi has seen changes to its format, such as the erosion of the traditional gender split of books for men and roses for women, reflecting changes in society.

April 23 is also widely believed to be the day that Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare, Europe's two great writers, died, leading UNESCO to choose it for its World Book and Copyright Day.

Yet, while Saint George's Day is celebrated in many places around the world, from England and Ethiopia to Palestine and Russia, perhaps no one does it quite like the Catalans.