La Diada de Sant Jordi is Barcelona’s unique version of Valentine’s Day. Catalan Sant Jordi celebrations are ancient, dating back centuries to the middle ages. In the Catalan version of the myth he slays a dragon and rescues a princess, and a rose is said to have blossomed from the creature’s blood (the very same red rose that is the symbol of England).
From this was born the tradition of women receiving roses on Sant Jordi which persists to this day. As anyone who is in Barcelona on the 23rd of April can tell you, Barcelona’s streets and plazas are a sea of red rose flower stalls and by the evening you’re unlikely to see a woman in the city without a rose in her hand.
However Sant Jordi has evolved to include the tradition of giving books, all thanks to the business verve of one Catalan bookseller, a certain Vincent Claver Andres. In 1923 he noticed that St George’s Day coincided with the almost simultaneous deaths of two literary greats William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes, both of whom passed away on the 23rd of April 1616. So he came up with the idea of women reciprocating their roses with a book as a gift for then men in their life.
This is why on the Dia de Sant Jordi and you’ll find Barcelona crammed with book stalls, some 10% of Catalonia’s annual book sales happen on this one day!
Apart from gift giving, Sant Jordi is a celebration of Catalan national identity. The red and gold Catalan flag is hung all across the city, and in Plaça de Sant Jaume you can watch and even partake in the sardana, the Catalan national dance.
Though it is not a public holiday but a regular work day, Saint Jordi has a happy festive atmosphere that is almost like a carnival, the streets come alive with people out and about and enjoying the spring sunshine.