Two days ago, after reading for three hours straight, I finished the last book in The Cemetery of Forgotten Books tetrology, The Labyrinth of Spirits. It had the best ending to any series that I’ve ever read, even Harry Potter. One of the last scenes in the story took place during the Sant Jordi’s Day festivities in Barcelona. This was the first time I had ever heard of this holiday, although I would not doubt if it was yet another miraculous invention by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. After I finished the novel, I began researching the Sant Jordi’s Day and what I found astonished me. Let me give you a run down.
Every year, on April 23rd, the streets of Barcelona become flooded with books, roses, and romance. On this day in 1926, with the death of the literary icon Miguel de Cervantes, Spain first christened the 23rd of April as World Book Day. Since then, the Catalonians have both celebrated their patron saint, Saint George, and honored Cervantes by gifting one another with books and roses.
The festival, known in Spanish as La Diada de Sant Jordi, is traditionally for lovers and sweethearts, a kind of Spanish Valentine’s Day, but the whole city participates. Originally, the men were gifted with a book and the women with a single red rose. Yet over time it became a free-for-all and both men, women, mothers, fathers, siblings, and friends could receive either of those gifts.
From the famous boulevard of La Rambla to the narrow cobblestone streets of the Raval Quarter, independent booksellers set up hundreds of tables and makeshift stalls stacked high with books. The citizens of Barcelona spend all day hunting for the perfect book for their loved ones, and maybe five others for themselves. Florists walk around with dozens of roses in their arms or pushing carts filled to the brim, never falling short of eager customers.
Even bakers join in on the festivities by selling pa de Sant Jordi, striped bread decorated as the Catalonian bread, flavored with Emmental cheese, walnuts, paprika, and pimentón sausage.
Aside from shopping for gifts, the Barcelonians are treated to special events and performances all over the city. Famous artists will often make appearances to hold readings and sign copies of their books. There are 24-hour reading marathons for Spanish and Catalonian literature. And places like Park Güell, Passeig de Gràcia, Casa Batlló, the Ateneo, and the Generalitat in Plaça de Sant Jaume are honored with traditional dances, musical performances, literary workshops and recitals, and ten-stories of human towers.
For nearly 100 years, La Diada de Sant Jordi has filled hearts with love and sparked a passion for literature in millions of people, both young and old. It is one of the most important, and most fragrant, days of the year in Barcelona and in many other parts of Spain; a day that celebrates love, culture, and Catalonian literature. I can’t think of a better way to spend your day.