Culture 21/04/2022

Why do we celebrate Sant Jordi?

We answer the most frequently asked questions about its origin and meaning

ARA
3 min
An image of Sant Jordi

BarcelonaSant Jordi is one of the most awaited and celebrated festivities in Catalonia, but where does this tradition come from? Why do we give roses and books as presents? Why is it on April 23rd? Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the festivity.

1.

Why is Sant Jordi on April 23rd?

April 23rd is the day on which the knight George died in the year 303. According to Christian legend, George was a Roman soldier who was martyred and beheaded for refusing to follow an order to persecute Christians. His death gave rise to numerous legends and he began to be venerated as a martyr, which made the day of his death an important date in the Christian calendar. During the Middle Ages, the cult of his figure spread throughout the Catalan Countries. In 1456 he became the official patron saint of Catalonia. Since the sixteenth century there is evidence that a festival was held on April 23 to commemorate him, although it was in the late nineteenth century, as a result of the Renaixença, that Sant Jordi became a patriotic, civil and cultural holiday in Catalonia.

2.

Why do we give roses?

The Catalan version of the legend says that, after a fierce battle between the knight and the dragon, the beast fell when pierced by the sharp spear of Sant Jordi. The blood from those wounds reached the ground and gave birth to a rose bush that, according to legend, bloomed every April. Here is where the custom of giving roses for Sant Jordi every April 23rd originates. In the symbolic universe of flowers, the red rose is associated with feminine love, while the carnation belongs to masculine love.

3.

Why do we give books as gifts?

While the tradition of giving roses to our beloved comes from the Middle Ages, the tradition of giving books did not begin to emerge until the 1920s. The initial idea came from Valencian writer Vicent Clavel i Andrés, director of Cervantes publishing house, who proposed to the Cambra Oficial del Llibre de Barcelona and the Gremi d'Editors i Llibreters that a celebration be held to promote books in Catalonia. The date chosen was October 7, 1927. The festival was also held in 1929, during the Barcelona International Exposition, and was so successful that it was decided to change the date and move it to April 23. From then on, the custom of giving books as gifts became part of the Sant Jordi festival. April 23, in fact, is an important day for literature: it is the day on which William Shakespeare and Josep Pla died, and Miguel de Cervantes was buried.

4.

What does it mean for Catalan culture?

Sant Jordi is a National Holiday in Catalonia, despite the fact that April 23 is a working day in the Catalan calendar. The holiday is one of the most important moments of the year for Catalan culture. Floral games are held in schools and official receptions take place at the Palau de la Generalitat. The streets all over the country are filled with rose and book stalls, both by professionals and charities and institutions that join in the celebrations. Numerous activities relating to the literary world are also organised in libraries and cultural spaces, poetry readings, talks by writers, and concerts.

5.

Is Sant Jordi celebrated in other places?

San Jorge is also the National Day of Aragon, but the festival is celebrated in a different way. Several institutional events are held, book stalls are put up in the streets and regional government awards its Aragón Prizes. The Catalan celebration of the feast of Sant Jordi has also reached other countries by the hand of Catalans emigrés. Thus, on several occasions, talks and book and rose parades have been organised in countries such as France, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Germany, Italy, United States, Argentina and Japan.

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