Love, books and roses

Today, Catalans celebrate Sant Jordi, one of the most cherished and romantic days of the year

A girl with a rose on Sant Jordi (by Lourdes Casademont/ACN)
A girl with a rose on Sant Jordi (by Lourdes Casademont/ACN) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

April 23, 2018 09:58 AM

Every April 23, Catalonia gets in a romantic mood. Thousands of Catalans flock to the streets to celebrate love and literature. It is one of the Catalans' most cherished days of the year, although many would like it to be a holiday, on which they could fully enjoy the company of their loved ones without having to think about work or school.  

Books and roses

Sant Jordi or Saint George is Catalonia’s patron saint. It is the Catalan equivalent to Saint Valentine’s Day, but in Catalonia it is not about chocolate, romantic dinners and love letters. Instead, two kinds of gifts that are exchanged: one, a rose, and another, a book. Traditionally, the woman (princess, if you like) gives a book to the man (or knight, if we stay in these terms), and then the man gives a red rose to the woman. However, this tradition has been progressively adopted by friends, relatives, colleagues and it is also welcomed by those amazed visitors and tourists experiencing the tradition for the first time around Catalonia. 

The knight who slayed the dragon to save the princess

The tradition is based of the legend of Sant Jordi. As the story goes, a knight in shining armor rode in to save a princess from a dragon. After he slayed the dragon, out of the beast’s blood grew a single rose, which the hero presented to the damsel. Although no books are mentioned in the tale, April 23 also happens to be the UNESCO World Book Day. Therefore, every city and every town throughout the country are filled with stands selling books and roses. This year, primarily, the many books published on what happened the day of the referendum in Catalonia on October 1 are popular as gifts. 

7 million roses for Sant Jordi

Monday will be a busy day for florists around Catalonia. According to the florist trade association, around 7 million roses will be sold on this Sant Jordi. Even though the red rose is a classic, you can find roses of all kind of colors on this day. But this year, one color will be particularly attractive to many Catalans: the yellow one. According to the trade association, there will be sold a total of 600,000 yellow roses this year. Yellow is the color used to show solidarity with Catalan officials in prison or in exile and will, therefore, most likely sell more this year compared to others. 

A Sant Jordi marked by the political situation in Catalonia

Not everything is rosy and the old tradition will be different this 2018, due to the political situation in Catalonia. The institutional events traditionally organized to celebrate the country’s patron saint will not be held this year, as they are traditionally presided over by the Catalan executive head, and following the events in October, the Spanish government effectively seized Catalonia’s self-rule, deposing its government – including the president, Carles Puigdemont. After a round of snap elections, there have been several attempts to hold swearing-in debates for new candidates, each one blocked by the Spanish judiciary.

Festive atmosphere

From early on in the morning, city and town streets throughout the country began filling up, and Barcelona was no exception. By midday, there were already thousands of people out for a stroll in the Catalan capital, celebrating Sant Jordi, the day of books, roses, and romance.

Even though this year Sant Jordi has fallen on a weekday, this didn’t stop people finding the time to head out into the sunshine and making the most of this very special day on the Catalan calendar. Millions of roses went on sale throughout Catalonia, as well as millions of euros of books, from the bigger cities like the capital, Girona, and Tarragona, but also in the smaller towns and villages. Rose vendors, bookshops, and publishing houses set up shop outside, and passers-by take in their wares in search of a gift for their loved ones. With so much on offer, there was plenty to choose from, with books and roses for as far as the eye could see.

Despite being a Monday, the atmosphere in in Catalonia has been festive. With the number of people wandering through the streets, it did not feel like a working day at all. The city was filled with locals and tourists alike. People of all ages enjoyed the warmer weather now Spring has gotten underway.