One of Barcelona’s best days? Easy. April 23rd, Saint George’s day (“La Diada de Sant Jordi” ), Barcelona’s Valentine’s day, a day when kissometer readings go off the charts, a day so sweet and playful, so goofy and romantic, that 6 million Catalans go giddy from dawn to dusk. Patron Saint of Catalonia, international knight-errant Saint George allegedly slew a dragon about to devour a beautiful princess south of Barcelona. From the dragon’s blood sprouted a rosebush, from which the hero plucked the prettiest for the princess.
The main event this day is the exchange of gifts between sweethearts, loved ones and respected ones. Historically, men gave women roses, and women gave men a book to celebrate the occasion. In modern times, the mutual exchange of books is customary. Roses have been associated with this day since medieval times, but the giving of books is a more recent tradition. In 1923, a bookseller started to promote the holiday as a way to honour the nearly simultaneous deaths of Miguel Cervantes and William Shakespeare on April 23, 1616. Barcelona is the publishing capital in both Catalan and Spanish and this heady one-two punch of love and literacy was quickly adopted.
On Barcelona‘s most visited street, La Rambla, and all over Catalonia, thousands of stands of roses and makeshift bookstalls are hastily set up for the occasion. By the end of the day, some four million roses and 400,000 books would have been purchased in the name of love. You will be hard-pressed to find a woman without a rose in hand, and despite the fact that April 23rd is an official workday, nearly all of Barcelona manages to play hooky and wander.
In Barcelona, Saint George is everywhere, beginning on the facade of the Catalonian government building, the Generalitat, the Casa Amatller as well as on the corner of Els Quatre Gats café. Gaudí (Catalan world-wide known architect) dedicated an entire house, Casa Batlló, to the Sant Jordi theme.
The sardana, the national dance of Catalonia, will be performed throughout the day in the Plaça Sant Jaume. And many book stores and cafes host readings by noted authors (look out for 24-hour marathon readings of Cervantes’ “Don Quixote”). And there will be a variety of street performers and musicians on hand to add a romantic ambience to nearly every public square and plaza.
Additionally, April 23rd is the only day of the year when the Palau de la Generalitat, Barcelona’s principal government building, is open to the public. Inside this Gothic architectural masterpiece you’ll see huge displays of roses created to honour Saint George.
Catalonia has exported this tradition of the book and the rose to the rest of the world. In 1995, the UNESCO adopted April 23rd as World Book and Copyright Day.