Sant Jordi is Barcelona’s Valentine’s Day. Seven million Catalans went out and partied all day and all night. In the streets, on the brick and cobblestone, in lovers’ and loved ones’ arms. A 24 hour reading of Don Quixote (my kind of celebration!) persevered through the romantic playfulness. The mood was reported to be wonderful, and the participants were able to attend the events safely.
Barcelona’s celebration surrounding the day of Sant Jordi is marked by books, roses, readings, and people gathering in the street to discuss romance, literature and life. Books were incorporated into the celebration in 1923, when the lovers’ fest emerged then as International Book Day, in an effort to honor the lives and mark the year 1616 when the deaths of both Cervantes and Shakespeare occured on the same day. Happy International Book Day, by the way.
St. George is the patron saint of Catalonia, and a Roman martyr, who was a solider and martyrized for his Christian beliefs in the 4th century. He is on every façade of nearly every building in Barcelona. He was also a slayer of dragons. He fought in order to save a princess, south of Barcelona, and from the dragon’s blood sprouted a rosebush, hence the roses at the festivities. There are hundreds of peddlers displaying 45 different kinds of roses to display 45 different kinds of love, from filial to passion.
Music is of course a large part of the festival, the Sardana dance is performed in Placa Sant Jaume while choral groups and jazz bands echo within and throughout the gothic walls of the beautiful city, two miles from the Mediterranean. By midnight, the Rambla, once a watercourse, is washed in flowers, and ribbons spell “Sant Jordi, Diada de la Rosa (Day of the Rose) T’Estimo (I Love You).” We are happy to hear from our friends in Barcelona that the event was a wonderful occasion and he pointed out this 2002 article on the celebration where George Semler writes,
“More than 4 million roses and half a million books are sold in Catalonia on Sant Jordi’s Day, men giving their inamoratas roses and the ladies giving books in return.”
Can you imagine what the world would be like if for every rose given a book was given in return?
According to “Freakando Matinee,” a local Barcelonian radio talk show, Catalans came out in droves to spend 20 million euros on books, and 6 million euros on roses, which beat out last year’s statistics by 2.5 million euros. A wonderful bunch of numbers to see spent on literature and loving gestures, in a world and time with our current landscape.
The festival of St. George is actually celebrated by many countries across the globe. In Palestine it’s known as the Feast of St. George, and people meet at the Temple of St. George in al-Khader, near Bethlehem. It’s National Day in England. Serbia and Bulgaria, however, will celebrate the day on May 6 with many marking the it in Eastern Orthodox festivities. (The Julian calendar versus the Gregorian calendar make up for the difference in celebration days), but with the exception of the note in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, when the author refers to the day on May 5, and says terrible things will occur, it’s generally thought to be a global celebration. Aptly dramatic and as interesting as the festival in Barcelona itself, marked by millions of roses metaphorically standing for slain dragon blood. Blood slain in the name of a saint saving a princess, lovers grasping each other’s arms, and families taking time to appreciate one another. Next year, plan to do it in person, and report back.