Love meets Literature:
La Diada de Sant Jordi
April 23rd is La Diada de Sant Jordi, the feast of Saint George, patron saint of both England and Catalonia. Today’s English hardly celebrate this feast; Catalans however embrace tradition on the most romantic day in their calendar.
Legend says that there was once a voracious dragon that terrified the village of Montblanc (south west of Barcelona). To appease its appetite, the villagers offered up all their livestock and when that ran out, their people. Names of people were drawn at random as a sacrifice to the beast. One year the king’s daughter’s name was drawn. But just before she was eaten, a handsome knight (now known as Sant Jordi) rode into town and killed the dragon, thus saving the princess’ life. From the ground where blood was spilled, there sprang a red rose. The knight offered the princess the rose. Tradition dictates that all the ladies of the household (including granny) are princesses for the day: they receive a red rose.
Gentleman receive a book. This could be linked to 23 April 1616 (Gregorian calendar) being the anniversary of the death of both Shakespeare and Miguel Cervantes. In 1923 a bookseller began to promote the day to commemorate both great writers. The tradition was exported: in 1995 UNESCO adopted it as World Book (and Copyright) Day.
Love and literature combine well. Sant Jordi is the best day for sales of both in Catalonia: an estimated 30 percent of annual sales (over 800,000 books) and over 4 million roses. Yet it’s the atmosphere that stays with you. Whether its Barcelona’s Rambla de Catalunya or Castelldefels’ Plaza de Iglesia ,couples of all ages stroll hand in hand in the spring sunshine, amongst a sea of roses and books, spotting a few famous authors too.
Even the politicians feel the romance. Sant Jordi is the only day that the Palau de la Generalitat on Barcelona’s Placa St Jaume opens its doors to the public. The building is embellished with roses. Love is (literally) in the air.