St. Valentine’s Day may not be celebrated in Barcelona, but that doesn’t mean cupid doesn’t flit around shooting his arrows. On April 23rd, roses are abundant in the city, and love is in the air, all thanks to their patron Saint, Jordi (George). Although St. George’s Day is recognized in many different countries, its biggest observance is right here in Catalonia, where many people enjoy the tradition of exchanging books and roses.
This mythical tale dates back to around the eleventh century, and tells the story of Sant Jordi, a multi-talented man who would have been considered quite a catch in modern day times. Jordi was a Roman soldier, Christian martyr, dragon slayer and model of medieval chivalry, who offered his protection to nations and cities around the world.
While there are many different versions of this story, in Catalonia, legend has it that Sant Jordi rescued a beautiful princess by slaying a dragon, and in that moment a single rose bloomed from the monster’s blood; hence the tradition of women receiving roses. On this day, Barcelona’s main boulevards erupt in color, as flower stands take over the town, and hopeless romantics buy a symbol of love for their sweethearts. By evening you’ll unlikely see a woman without a rose in hand.
It wasn’t until 1923, however, that the princess began giving her prince a book. Don Vincent Claver Andres, a Valencian writer and editor, moved to Barcelona in 1918 and founded Editorial Cervantes on La Rambla de Catalunya. Claver couldn’t help but notice an incredible lack of book buying in the city and decided to create one of the greatest marketing ploys in history. Because St. Jordi’s Day fell on the exact date of William Shakespeare’s death and one day after that of Miguel de Cervantes, he decided to use this as a tactic to promote books sales. And so began his mission to implement the tradition of women giving men a book in return for a rose on St. Jordi’s day. Today, nearly 400,000 books are bought on this holiday, making up about 10% of Catalonia’s annual book sales. This tradition was also exported around the world, and in 1995 UNESCO adopted April 23rd as World Book and Copyright Day.
Along with lovers exchanging gifts, St Jordi’s day is also a day to acknowledge Catalan culture, which becomes obvious as you weave your way through the old and new city alike. Buildings become enveloped with yellow and red striped Catalan flags, voices echo in the alleyways as literature enthusiasts recite their favorite book passages, and free Catalan language classes are offered to passersby. Visit La Plaça de la Catedral in ‘El Barri Gòtic‘, and watch as the locals jive to ‘La Sardana,’ the national dance of Catalonia.
Although you won’t see super market shelves overflowing with boxes of chocolate hearts, and heart shaped candies that say “Be Mine,” one thing’s for certain, there’s no lack of romantic expression in Barcelona.
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