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April 23rd is La Diada de Sant Jordi (St George’s Day), or ‘the day of books and roses’ as it is sometimes known, and is an important day in the Catalan calendar. In the UK we often recognise St George’s Day as an inherently English concept; however George is the patron saint of many countries and communities throughout the world, and few celebrate him more vibrantly than Catalonia.
St George’s day in this area of Spain is essentially the equivalent of Valentine’s Day, and is very much a celebration of love and literature with friends and lovers exchanging books and roses. 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 later. Traditionally, lovers would exchange gifts, with men presenting a single rose to their sweetheart and receiving a book in return.
Barcelona is one of best places to be on April 23rd as 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. The Rambla is packed with people surrounding the book stalls, cafes and venues hold 24-hour reading marathons, and book signings are arranged all over the city, renowned for being Spain’s publishing capital. To celebrate, some of the bigger companies even give free roses away with book purchases!
The event coincides with UNESCO’s World Book and Copyright Day – established in 1995 to mark the anniversary of the deaths of literary greats such as William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes (who actually died on the 22nd April) .