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A Rose For Passion | © slgckgc/Flickr
A Rose For Passion | © slgckgc/Flickr

Sant Jordi's Day In Barcelona: History And Traditions

Picture of Tamara Kiewiet
Tamara Kiewiet
Updated: 16 November 2016
Sant Jordi’s Day is a traditional day in Barcelona, focusing on roses, books and romance and inspired by the Catalan patron saint, Sant Jordi, or Saint George.

Sant Jordi: The Legend

Even though little is known about the historical figure Sant Jordi, also known as Saint George, his legendary tale quickly became a classic theme in the literary world. The story involves a princess and a dragon, of course, the latter of which terrorized a village in the country Silene. From time to time, the people of the village had to sacrifice a lamb and a virgin to keep the dragon appeased. When the princess of Silene was randomly selected as half of this sacrifice, Sant Jordi appeared on the stage to rescue the damsel in distress. He did not marry the princess, but he did give her a beautiful bouquet of red roses.

The Catalan tradition of gifting books and roses goes back to the 15th century. A constitution was adopted by the Catalan Parliament declaring Sant Jordi’s Day a festival day, and the legend of Sant Jordi’s could explain why men buy roses for women — but there is no mention of a book in the original tale. It was only in 1923 that women started buying books for men, when the Valencian writer and book salesman Vicente Clavel Andrés introduced a new tradition to Sant Jordi’s Day, specifically to honor and commemorate the famous Miguel Cervantes on the day he died in 1616. The Catalan capital quickly adopted this combination of love and literacy. That is why the Catalan Sant Jordi’s Day is also know as El Dia de la Rosa, The Day of the Rose, or El Dia del Llibre, The Day of the Book. Beyong loved ones and sweethearts, it’s also common for colleagues and neighbors to take part in this beautiful tradition, and the region surrounding Barcelona is not the only place where literature is celebrated by buying books for each other. Inspired by Sant Jordi’s Day, UNESCO adopted April 23rd in 1995 as a day to celebrate literature, as it was also the anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and several other important authors — and so the World Book Day, also known as the International Day of the Book, was born.

Sant Jordi’s Day Celebrations In Barcelona

The saying that goes for Rome fits Barcelona as well — when in Barcelona, do as the Catalan do. Barcelona’s most famous street, La Rambla, will be filled with bookstalls and stands for roses on April 23rd. Nearly 800, 000 books, almost half of the books sold each year, will be sold just on this day! The roses you will find on Sant Jordi’s Day are mostly a traditional deep red color and are decorated with a little red and yellow stripe, which symbolizes the Catalan flag. The four red stripes on a golden background are called the Senyera, which can also be found hanging from balconies and above the streets. Other colored roses symbolize different meanings, so watch out what you give to the sweet old Catalan lady next door. Yellow roses are gifts for friends, pink roses symbolize happiness, and white roses stand for innocence, but orange ones are used to let someone know you’re very interested.

 

Plaça Sant Jaume is another spot in Barcelona you cannot skip on Sant Jordi’s Day, as the main square becomes a stage for Catalan dancers performing the Sardana, the national dance of Catalonia. Other street performers, like the human towers (known as) Castellers and a variety of musicians, add a romantic ambiance to squares elsewhere in the center of Barcelona. On your way to one of Barcelona’s spectacular squares, you may notice that many cafés and book stores are hosting readings by noted authors, including 12 and 24-hour reading marathons of Catalan and Spanish classic literature, like Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Every year the location of the marathon changes. Search the web for marató de lectura, just before Sant Jordi’s Day, and you will find the best kept secrets of this special holiday.

Did you know Antoni Gaudí dedicated one of his famous architectural masterpieces to the legend of Sant Jordi? The roof of Casa Batlló resembles the scaly dragon skin, and the tower topped with a cross of four arms represents the dragon pierced by Sant Jordi’s lance!