I have written about La Diada de Sant Jordi before when I wrote about Valentine’s Day in Spain. But I thought I could expand on it a little this time around and mention a few other things that might interest you.
Many countries around the world have Saint George as their patron saint and most celebrate it on April 23rd (the accepted date of Saint George’s death in 303 AD).
Here in Catalonia (and a few other regions and cities in Spain) St. George is the patron saint too. And the Catalans certainly need little reason for a celebration.
St. George’s Day in Catalonia is not only the second most important national feast of the year but the romantic connotations of St. George slaying the dragon and saving the princess are brought to the fore. Saint George was real and did some pretty gallant stuff but of course the story of him slaying the dragon is legend. Even so, throughout Catalonia it is a public holiday with distinct similarities to Valentine’s Day.
La Diada de Sant Jordi
In Catalonia it is called La Diada de Sant Jordi, also known as El Dia de la Rosa (The Day of the Rose) or El Dia del Llibre (The Day of the Book). The main event is the exchange of gifts between loved ones. Roses have been associated with this day since medieval times but more recently the giving of books is the custom. This came about in the 20th century as some bright spark of a bookseller realised that Josep Pla (1897-1981), Miguel Cervantes (1547-1616) and William Shakespeare (1564-1616), all great proponents of the written word had all died on the same day (or were buried or something), April 23rd.
So men give women roses, and women give men a book to celebrate the occasion. It is said, “a rose for love and a book forever”. Incredibly, half of the total yearly book sales in Catalonia take place on this day.
This Catalan tradition has been exported to the rest of the world and in 1995 UNESCO adopted the 23rd April as World Book & Copyright Day. Though strangely it’s the first Thursday in March in the UK.
La Sardana in Barcelona
In Barcelona the sardana, the national dance of Catalonia, is performed in squares across town and book stores and cafes hold readings by authors.
Also St. George’s Day is the only day of the year when the Palau de la Generalitat building that houses the government of Catalonia is open to the public. The interior is decorated with roses in honour of St. George.
Font de Sant Jordi
My favourite statue in Barcelona is of St. George. It is part of a fountain in the cloisters of Barcelona cathedral, The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia. The Font de Sant Jordi looks beautiful with the bright green vegetation, cascading water and the bronze of St. George rearing on his mount while slaying the dragon beneath. Unseen by thousands of visitors to Barcelona each year it is in a beautiful spot that unfortunately they now charge you to enter.
I have lived in Barcelona for nearly 3 years now and have experienced many of the annual fiestas each with their own characteristics and bizarre events. But as a book lover and ever the romantic, La Diada de Sant Jordi is a favourite of mine. I grew up with my mother being appalled that St. Patrick’s Day was being celebrated more than England’s own patron saint. So it was nice to come to Barcelona and realise that we shared saints. And that here at least, it was deservingly celebrated.