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A guide to celebrating Sant Jordi, the day of books, roses, and love

While the rest of the world awaits Valentine’s Day to celebrate love, Catalan’s most romantic day of the year is Sant Jordi, which coincides with World Book Day (23rd April). It’s a day dedicated to literature and love, and books and roses are the main characters.

In this guide, we tell you everything you need to know about this tradition and how to celebrate this romantic festivity.

What happens during Sant Jordi?

On the 23rd of April, Catalonia dresses in red. La Diada de Sant Jordi (The Festivity of Saint George) has arrived. It’s a day to honour Catalonia’s patron saint, Sant Jordi (aka St. George), and celebrate love and literature. We could say it’s the Catalan equivalent of Valentine’s Day.

The tradition is that men give a red rose to all the significant women in their lives, be their lovers, mothers, daughters or colleagues, while ladies give men books. Of course, there’s no need to pander to stereotypical roles in the age we’re living in! If you feel like getting your boyfriend a rose and your mum a book, go ahead!

Couples walking hand-in-hand and people giving red roses to their loved ones are some of the typical scenes during this spring day.

The streets of most Catalan cities are full of books and roses stalls. On average, 4 million roses and 500,000 books are sold in Catalonia every year!

Most of the roses given are red, according to the tradition, but over the last few years, you can find them in all kinds of colours, even a rainbow multicoloured one! The roses are typically wrapped in ribbons in the colours of La Senyera (the Catalan flag) and come together with a wheat spike.

A bunch of yellow and red roses with the Catalan flag sold during Sant Jordi

The history behind Sant Jordi

The legend of Sant Jordi

Catalans celebrate Sant Jordi’s Day to commemorate the death of Saint George in the year 303 AD. He became the symbol of Catalonia during the 19th century when the cultural and political movement known as the Renaissance reclaimed the signs of Catalan identity.

Saint George is also the patron of many other countries, such as England, Greece, and Romania. Each country has its own version of this legend, but it is believed that all of them come from a soldier born in Greece around the year 280 AD. He was executed for his Christian beliefs, becoming a martyr and a saint among Christians.

The legend of Sant Jordi is truly a fairytale about a beautiful princess, a knight on a white horse, and a horrific dragon. It’s full of love, honour, and heroism.

The Catalan version tells that a long time ago, a terrible dragon terrorised the small village of Montblanc, near Barcelona. All the citizens were terrified and decided to feed the dragon to calm his anger.

However, the dragon ate a lot, and the city ran out of animals to give to him. Trying to find a solution, the village inhabitants decided to sacrifice one person every day, chosen by drawing lots.

The problem came when the chosen person was the king’s daughter. The destiny had decided, and, with immense sadness, the king let the beautiful princess go.

When the terrific dragon was going to swallow her, a brave knight in a white horse appeared. He was Sant Jordi. He fought against the dragon and killed him with his lance. To show his love, he gave the princess a red rose from the rose bush that sprouted just in the spot where the dragon’s red blood had spilt.

Since then, it has been a tradition in Catalonia to give a red rose to your loved one. But not only couples do this. Nowadays, roses are also given to familiars, friends and lovers, regardless of their gender, to demonstrate your affection and love to them.

World Book Day

The book tradition on this day doesn’t come from Saint George himself. It comes from the International World Book Day, which started in Spain in 1923. The date coincides with the death of two world-famous writers, the Spanish Miguel de Cervantes and the English William Shakespeare, in 1616. In 1995, UNESCO declared the 23rd of April as the UNESCO World Book & Copyright Day.

During Sant Jordi’s day, hundreds of stalls sell new and old books with special offers. There are always book readings by famous Catalan and Spanish authors. And also, you can find well-known authors signing copies of their last publications.

The role of books in the festivity is so significant that, in 2016, Barcelona became a UNESCO City of Literature. Since then, it’s been part of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network, along with other cities, such as Edinburgh, Krakow, and Prague, in which literature is part of their cultural creativity.

A stall of books on Sant Jordi's day
Photo by Francesc_2000 / CC BY

What to do for Sant Jordi in Catalonia

Although there is a festive atmosphere, Sant Jordi is not an official public holiday in Catalonia. Therefore, shops and restaurants are open as usual. The main streets become bustling during midday and the evening when people are out of work.

Stroll through stalls full of books and roses

Head to any Catalan city and soak up the festival’s atmosphere in and around the city’s central streets! Librarians take their books outside and set up stalls with the latest hits and some old classics. On the other side, flower vendors display thousands of red roses. Both will take the streets, set up the stalls, and make a brisk trade!

Sant Jordi is celebrated throughout Catalonia, so no matter where you are, you’ll find a red rose and an excellent book!

Go see some of Barcelona’s buildings decorated with roses

At many attractions in Barcelona, you can see the cult of Sant Jordi on the 23rd of April. If you have the chance, go see the Casa Batlló. This Gaudí’s architectural masterpiece is beautiful, but even more so on Sant Jordi. Why? Because of the hundreds of red roses dressing the building’s facade!

Another building worth visiting during this day is the City Hall in Plaça Sant Jaume. The building is open to the general public, and you can see usually closed areas. 

Check the city’s dedicated page to see everything happening in Barcelona during Sant Jordi’s day.

Casa Batlló with the balconies decorated with red roses for Sant Jordi

Have you ever been to Catalonia on this special day? Are you planning to go? If so, we can’t wait to know about your experience! 🙂

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