A Barcelona day of Books, Roses, Tradition and Love
Today is April 23rd, one of the most spectacular days in Barcelona. The holiday is affectionately called the Day of Lovers, yet more traditionally known as Diada de Sant Jordi in Catalan. The way my 4-year-old daughter says Diada de Sant Jordi is as spectacular as the tradition itself. The many hours of school here in Catalunya have taught her well; however, for me, it’s very hard to fit 3 syllables into the short word Jordi. For now, I’ll stick with Day of Saint George.
The holiday is what I would consider a Catalan version of St. Valentine’s Day but slightly better! This highly celebrated tradition includes a knight, dragon, princess, rose and lots of books. There simply is no better formula for starting a romantic tradition.
The story of Saint George and the dragon is recited around the world. If you need a refresher, you can read about the Catalan version here on the Barcelona City Hall website. In a nutshell, the legend begins with Sant Jordi (Saint George), the patron saint of Catalonia. The heroic saint is said to have rescued a princess moments before from — what could have been — a fiery death by a dragon. Sprouting from the exact spot where Sant Jordi slayed the dragon and spilled the blood, a beautiful rose bush blossomed. Sant Jordi plucked one rose and handed it to his beloved young princess. How’s that for romance, gentlemen?
In the 18th century, Barcelonians started the tradition of buying roses for their partners. Sometime later, the ladies returned the favor by gifting a book to her favorite gentleman.
These days, on the 23rd of April each year, men give their novias a rose, while women give their novios a book. However, one does not simply waltz into a bookstore or flower shop to buy these treasured gifts. Oh no, the Catalans have a city-wide street fair for that!
Nearly every tiny book shop and florist in the city sets out a table or tent showcasing a collection of their finest roses and books. More recently, artists have added a slight spin on the tradition by crafting jewelry, candies and sculptures, all in the name of the rose. As the final touch, the vendors adorn their stalls with the most important accent of the holiday – the Catalan flag. The red and yellow stripes drape the city from the small wooden tables on the streets to the wrought iron balconies and to the towering buildings high above the city. It’s spectacular.
During our first spring in Barcelona, my husband and I had just ended a chilly winter without heat since our building maintenance team couldn’t seem to repair the heater in our mid-town apartment. Yet, somehow transforming the entire city of Barcelona into a romantic open-air flower and literature fair was flawlessly executed with the highest level of precision and planning. Was this the same city?
Having lived in Manhattan for many years, I certainly was no stranger to street festivals. In spring and summer you can’t walk more than 10 blocks before tripping over a festival, parade or demonstration. However, a street fair of this magnitude I had never seen before, even back in my beloved New York City.
This year 2015 is no disappointment – the Catalans nailed it! Diada de Sant Jordi is a breathtaking vision of beauty, tradition and style while adorning fine literature with red roses. Lovers, locals and tourists celebrate the start of spring by strolling through the streets of Barcelona, browsing stacks of books and selecting the most perfect roses for their loved ones.
Adding to the ambiance were the young students celebrating a day absent from school, authors signing book jackets, musicians, street entertainers and dancers performing the traditional Catalan dance called Sardanes.
The gates to Barcelona City Hall open to the public, as they do each year on this — and only this — day. The line of visitors waiting to get inside is long, twisting and turning through the ancient cobblestone streets surrounding the beautiful civic building. Visitors take advantage of the rare opportunity to see the historic rooms, not usually open to the public. For more information on the open house, see theBarcelona City Hall website.
April 23rd has been named World Book and Copyright Day by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Click here to read more.
I hit the streets early this morning, camera in hand, to capture the history, legend, charm and ancient tradition proudly on display for the 2015 Diada de Sant Jordi.