About St. George's Day in Catalonia
Sant Jordi is a day that is celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm and joy across Catalonia. On April 23rd each year, the streets of the cities and towns are crowded with people and stalls selling books and roses. It is about celebrating the patron saint of Catalonia through two traditions based on love and culture.
When is St. George's Day?
St. George's Day is celebrated annually on April 23rd, as this is the generally accepted date of St. George's death.
Who was St. George?
St. George was a cavalryman in the Roman army at Lydda, now in modern-day Israel. He was a Christian at a time when Rome was ruled by the emperor Diocletian, who was anti-Christian.
He refused to make sacrifices to the Roman gods. As a result, he was tortured over several years and eventually suffered a martyr's death, when he was beheaded in 303 AD.
He began to be venerated around the fifth century when a monastery was built and dedicated to him in Jerusalem.
From Roses to Reading
Nowadays, it's not George's martyrdom that propelled him to popularity, but the tales of his heroism in slaying dragons and rescuing maidens. These stories started to appear sometime in the 11th Century and become famous across all of Europe and parts of Asia, and while the details differ in the many versions of the story, there always seems to be a Princess involved.
In Catalonia, the dragon-slaying takes place in Tarrangona where a ferocious dragon, capable of poisoning the air and killing with his breath, was terrorising the city. The inhabitants decided the only option was to keep the dragon happy by feeding him one person a day, chosen by a draw.
After several days, the princess was the unlucky one. When the princess left her home and headed towards the dragon, a knight named George, clad in shining armour and riding a white horse, suddenly appeared to rescue her. Saint George raised his sword and fatally stabbed the dragon - releasing the princess and the citizens from their torment.
From the dragon's blood, a rose bush grew with the reddest roses that had ever been seen. The gallant George picked one of the roses and offered it to the princess.
This grisly but ultimately romantic tale is why St. George's Day (Sant Jordi) is the Catalan equivalent of St. Valentine's Day and the most romantic day of the year.
Apart from Saint George, April 23rd is also the death anniversary of William Shakespeare and Cervantes (who both died on the same day), which is why it was declared World Book Day by UNESCO in 1995.
On this day, in addition to exchanging roses, it is a Catalan tradition to give a book as a present, leading to April 23rd, being known as the day of love and culture.
Feliç Sant Jordi!