Happy St George’s Day!
St George’s Day celebrations are taking place in countries all around the world today. Saint George himself is a prominent figure in the Christian (primarily Catholic) church and the legend of St George and the Dragon is a story so many of us grew up with. Although he is the patron saint of many communities, he is perhaps most commonly identified as the patron saint of England, a country which bears the St George’s Cross on its national flag.
Being English myself, I know the history behind England and our patron saint, but am always disappointed by the lack of celebration for the day itself. Unlike St Patrick’s Day, which is a huge social event in the UK (and many other countries who celebreate it with a a tipple, or two, or four, or ten…), St George’s Day is, for the most part, overlooked. In fact, whilst Scotland hosts many events to celebrate St Andrew’s, and the Welsh population takes pride in St David’s, poor old St George seems to be forgotten about. There are some efforts to celebrate (Morris dancing always seems to be more popular on St George’s), but on a national scale, celebrations are few and far between.
Therefore, I’m going to share my favourite St George’s Day celebration elsewhere in the world: Sant Jordi, celebrated in the Spanish region of Catalunya, and which also happens to be the perfect celebration for book-lovers worldwide!
La diada de Sant Jordi, or ‘the day of books and roses’ as it is sometimes known, is the Catalan equivalent of Valentine’s Day, and is very much a celebration of love and literature. The red rose has often been associated with St George, with many cultures bearing a rose on their clothing in recognition of the day. The exchanging of books, however, wasn’t introduced until 1923. Traditionally, lovers would exchange gifts. Men presented a single rose to their sweetheart and received a book in return. Nowadays, it is much more common to see books presented by both parties with the rose as an added extra (you know, since equality took off and everyone realised that women liked reading too, not to mention that books are way more expensive than flowers and last a helluva lot longer too!) and some of the bigger companies give free roses away with book purchases.
The result is this:
The streets are lined with stalls offering both new and previously owned books, and you can find a flower vendor on each street corner selling roses of every colour imaginable. I was fortunate enough to be living in Barcelona during the 2011 Sant Jordi celebrations, and the atmosphere is incredible. The Rambla is packed with people surrounding the books stalls which line the entire street, cafes and venues hold 24-hour reading marathons, and book signings are arranged all over the city, renowned for being Spain’s publishing capital. I cannot imagine a more perfect place for hopeless romantics than Barcelona on St George’s Day.
St Valentine’s Day has become so overly commercialised (particularly in the UK and US) that it has a negative stigma attached to it, and although some companies do jump on Sant Jordi, there is something so simple and romantic about the exchange of books and flowers. The popularity of the event in Catalunya has made such an impact that in 1995 UNESCO formally announced April 23rd as World Book and Copyright day.
Nevertheless, Catalan celebrations for Sant Jordi aren’t just limited to flowers and literature. Spain is infamous for its ability to throw a good fiesta, and Sant Jordi is no exception. Celebrations in Catalunya involve LOTS of dancing, and squares throughout the region become venues for the Sardana, a traditional Catalan dance that looks a little like this:
As well as for the popular Castellers (towers of people) the region is known for :
The incredible sense of celebration and tradition that surrounds the day is an experience that needs to be seen and lived first-hand, and I recommend anyone thinking of visiting Barcelona to try and work their visit around Sant Jordi, especially book-lovers!
I hope you all have a lovely St George’s Day, wherever you are in the world, and however you choose to celebrate it!