St. George’s Day is celebrated in all the Spanish autonomous communities from the old Crown of Aragon: Aragon, Catalonia, and Valencia, with different intensity. St. George is the patron saint of Aragon, where he is known as San Jorge.
La Diada de Sant Jordi, also known as el dia de la rosa (The Day of the Rose) or el dia del llibre (The Day of the Book) is a Catalan holiday celebrated on April 23 similar to Valentine’s Day with some unique twists that show the ancient practice of this day. The main event is the exchange of gifts between sweethearts, loved ones and respected ones. Historically, men gave their girlfriends and wives roses, and women gave their boyfriends and husbands 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 principal street, La Rambla, and all over the city, hundreds 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 half of the total yearly book sales in Catalonia take place on this occasion.
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.