A dragon, roses and books…
What do they have to do with one another? Well here is the story of Sant Jordi, or Saint George in English.
Who is Sant Jordi (Saint George)?
Saint George, is one of the most well known saints in the Catholic Church. George was born to Greek Christian parents in the late third century. His father was an officer in the Roman army and both his parents were from noble families. When George was a teenager he lost both his parents and decided to join the Roman army himself. He became a very good soldier and was highly valued by the emperor. Everything changed when the emperor decided that all Christian soldiers should be arrested or offer sacrifices to the Roman gods. George refused to renounce his faith and his worship of Jesus Christ. He also protested against the persecution of Christians in the empire. Even though the emperor, who did not want to lose one of his best soldiers, tried to convert him by offering him money and presents, George did not change his mind. After much pleading by the emperor and refusals by George, there was nothing else that could be done. George was to be executed. After he gave all his possessions to the poor, he was killed on the 23rd of April 303. He died a Christian martyr.
The princess and the dragon
One of the most famous stories about the life of Saint George is the story about the dragon. In a land, far away, a dragon made its nest at a beautiful spring. This spring supplied a nearby city with water. With the dragon living at the spring, the citizens could not fetch water and soon enough there was nothing left. Without any other water supply, the king decided to give offerings to the dragon in exchange for water and to keep the dragon from attacking the city. First of all, sheep were given. But one day the dragon was not satisfied with this offering anymore. The only thing the people could do was to offer a girl each day. The girls where chosen by drawing lots. Then one day, the kings daughter was selected. Though the king tried to save her, the people of the city demanded she would be offered, just like all the other girls before her. On the day the princess was let to the nest of the dragon, Saint George passed by the city. He saw the girl and asked her what she was doing there. When she told him about the dragon, he decided to rescue her and did so by slaying the dragon with his spear.
Saint George became the patron saint of many countries, regions and cities, including Catalonia. Saint George’s day is celebrated on the 23rd of April, the day he died. In Catalonia it’s a very special day called “La Diada de Sant Jordi”. It has been celebrated since the fifteenth century and is one of the most important festivals for Catalans. On this day the city streets of Barcelona fill up with stalls full of books and roses. Catalan flags are abundant and wherever you go, the smell of roses, laughter, love and joy fill the air. This has to be the most romantic day of the year! So why books and roses you wonder? Well here is why…
According to some stories, a red rose bush grew out of the blood of the dragon, killed by Saint George. Saint George then picked one of its beautiful roses for the princess. Therefore it’s an old tradition for men to give one red rose to their loved one on Saint George’s day. To give only one rose shows the exclusiveness of the love you have for your beloved one. The colour red symbolises passion and love. The rose also comes with a sprig of wheat that stands for fecundity or fertility. Although most roses are still red, there are more and more other colours too, all with their own special meaning. A blue rose symbolises trust and is often given to a friend. A blue rose also makes the person it is given to more calm. A pink rose stands for affection, tenderness and kindness. Purple symbolises femininity and seduction. Giving a white rose is also very special as it shows the desire of having pure love that lasts forever. White roses also stand for purity and innocence. Yellow roses symbolise joy, happiness and friendship.
Books and Roses
It was in 1923 a bookseller started to promote giving a book in addition to the roses. His idea was to commemorate the deaths of two great writers who both died on the 23rd of April, in 1616, Miguel Cervantes and William Shakespeare. So ever since 1923, men give women roses and women give men books in return, to celebrate La Diada de Sant Jordi. “A rose for love and a book forever”. In 1995, UNESCO even declared the 23rd of April “World Book Day”.
On La Diada de Sant Jordi, millions of roses and books are sold each year. So gentlemen, if you happen to be in Barcelona on this romantic day, make sure you give your special princess a rose! And ladies, do choose a nice book for your knight in shining armour to show him how much you care!
Other than books and roses, there are many other activities to be found in the streets of Barcelona on this festive day. You can see the traditional dance of Catalonia, the Sardana, being performed on the cities squares. Barcelona city hall on Plaça Sant Jaume is open to the public and there are special Sant Jordi cakes being sold in bakeries. In Plaça de Catalunya many Spanish and Catalan authors sign books and give interviews. All in all a great day to wander around Barcelona and take in all the traditions!