Sant Jordi’s tradition (the book and the rose)

As you know if you follow my blog, I’m a Catalan living in the United States and as such, I like to expose my children to American traditions, but also to Catalan and Spanish ones. I’ve written about some of our other traditions here.

Sant Jordi is one of my favorites. For Sant Jordi, Catalans go out to the streets and celebrate both the World Book Day and Sant Jordi.

Books and roses everywhere

For Sant Jordi, it’s a tradition to give each other books and roses, symbols of culture and love. It’s the day that Catalans celebrate their Valentine’s Day, and also a day to claim the Catalan culture.

Men started giving red roses to women in celebration of love in the fifteenth century. Only in the 1930’s, women started giving men books, in celebration of the World Book Day. In the modern times, both men and women give each other books and roses as they wish.

As an avid reader, I’ve always loved Sant Jordi. My favorite part of the day was after school or after work, wandering the streets of Barcelona and browsing through piles and piles of books. In the same streets, people sell roses and everyone celebrates love and culture. It’s just beautiful.

As a kid, I’d often sell roses with my friends to earn money for school trips or gear upgrades for my swimming team.

Celebrating Sant Jordi in California is definitely not the same. Our family has kept the tradition of giving each other books and roses (thank you Ignacio for making it possible even though you didn’t grow up with this tradition), but the part about going out to the streets is just not possible. This year Mar is old enough to understand, so I’m going to try and explain this tradition to her. To celebrate, apart from giving each other books and roses, we’ll also go to the library. I hope one day my kids will love this tradition as much as I do and get to spend Sant Jordi’s day in Barcelona.

The legend of Sant Jordi

Once upon a time a dragon that no knight seemed to be able to defeat frightened the village of Montblanc by eating all their beasts. Once the dragon had eaten all the caws, and sheeps, and horses, and all of the other animals, the villagers didn’t know what else to feed the dragon with.

The king gathered everyone and announced they’d give the dragon one person to be eaten every day. This person would be chosen in a raffle. The king’s daughter was in charge of the raffle and, the very first day, her name turned out to be the chosen one. Left with no other choice than accepting her fate, the princess went to the dragon.

Then, Sant Jordi appeared ready to fight the dragon. The Catalan version of the legend says that after a tremendous combat between Sant Jordi and the dragon, the knight cut across the dragon with a spear and from the dragon’s blood they started to grow red roses. They’d bloom every year in April, and that’s how the tradition of giving roses as a symbol of love on April 23rd started.

This illustration below is from my friend Cristina de Lera, who’s also from Catalonia.

If you ever have the opportunity of spending April 23rd in Barcelona, don’t even think about it, just do it. It’s one of our favorite days of the year, and it is like that for a reason.