St. George’s Day—he’s the guy who vanquished that dragon—is celebrated in various ways all over Europe, but in a very special fashion in Spain’s region of Catalonia. Instead of giving each other boxes of candy and the like, residents of Barcelona and its neighboring regions give books and roses to their relatives and friends—that’s right, books!—as a means of marking this Catholic feast day. And thereby they tell something about the culture and lifestyle of Catalonia that have made that region such a powerful tourist draw.
Catalonia is not simply an area of great museums and libraries, restaurants, architectural masterworks, publishing houses and more, its citizens are surely among the most educated and well-read of Europe. Their sophistication—exhilarating for an outsider to experience—is a reason, among others why Catalonia has now become one of Europe’s most popular destinations.
The gifting of books, as one highlight of St. George’s Day (“Diada de Sant Jordi”), is surely in the grand tradition of Catalonia, and we’re pleased beyond measure that they’ve chosen one of our publications (Barcelona Day by Day) to be especially featured among those gifts.
The book-giving tradition began, by the way, in the early 20th century when Catalan booksellers noticed that St. George’s Day fell at or near the anniversary of the deaths of Cervantes and Shakespeare. Following Catalan’s lead, other nations created “World Book Day” in 1955 (now celebrated in March).
(Barcelona's Parc Guell. Photo by Jake Bellucci/Flickr)
On St. George’s Day in Barcelona, booksellers pull out all the stops by placing stands festooned with roses and books up and down the famous walking street of that city, “Las Ramblas” (“Les Rambles” in Catalan), alongside which street performers and musicians are also out in force (creating a much-valued chance for tourists to witness the national Catalan dance, the Sardana). But books—books and roses—are nevertheless the major feature of the celebration. This year, the Catalan Tourist Board is extending its own celebration of St. George’s Day by launching a three-day promotion (April 23 to and including April 26) called a #BooksAndRoses promotion in which they will award a rose and a copy of Barcelona Day by Day to North Americans who click on this link and thus enter a contest in honor of St. George.
In its focus on roses, St. George’s Day is somewhat like our own Valentine’s Day, but I especially like the concept of joining heart (roses) and head (books) in one holiday. By doing so, Catalonia also highlights the diversity and appeal of this remarkable corner of Europe.