In Catalonia you can be forgiven in case you forget to buy a rose for your loved one on Valentine’s Day, as long as you do not do so on April 23 – the day of Sant Jordi. We are a lot of foreigners who agree that this is the most beautiful of the Catalan festas.
The legend of Sant Jordi (Saint George in English, Sankt Göran in Swedish and Svatý Jiří in Czech) exists throughout the Christian world. In the Catalan version, the fight between the dragon and the brave rider took place at Mont Blanc, in the province of Tarragona. Together with la nostra Senyora de Montserrat, Sant Jordi is the patron saint of Catalonia and his name day is celebrated with an eclectic mix of roses, books and Catalan flags.
Before this year, my family and I has already had the opportunity to celebrate this day twice. People always recommend us to go into Barcelona to get the full flavour of it, but with two small children, we have preferred to make do with the Vilanova version. On this day, our local Rambla is packed with professional dealers as well as non-governmental organisations and school classes selling books as well as roses.
The tradition that men give the women they love roses apparently dates all the way back to the 15th century. The other part of the gift exchange, that women give the men they love a book is a much more recent concept. It started in commemoration of a number of great authors who have happened to have had their births or deaths coinciding on this day. The latter has subsequently been picked up by UNESCO, which has made this the World Book and Copyright Day.
To express the passion local people feel for their patron saint, the whole town is decorated with Catalan flags - four bright red stripes on a yellow background. You will find them swaying from balconies and the fair stalls or in stylish decorations in shop windows. Together with spring temperatures and the number of people the celebration attracts, this makes it sparkle with colours. The only part which tend to shine a bit too strongly for my taste, are the t-shirts and pins of the unnumbered small leftwing parties who allegedly come out in defence of the Catalan culture on this day. Nowadays, when public life and media in Catalonia is already dominated by Catalan, I can not help feeling that their true message is a quite unnecessary protest against the Spanish language.
This year April 23 was on a Monday, and since Sant Jordi is not a public holiday, both my wife and I had to go to work. While I was waking up, I wondered when I would be able to fit in a visit to a flower store. As soon as jumped into my car I realized that there was no need for such worries. There were people selling roses in almost every single roundabout I passed through in our town.
I can not say that our evening was overly romantic, but let us blame that on the fact that we are not Catalan, after all. However, we did at least honour the minimum level of the tradition so I received a book from my wife and in return I presented her with a rose. Luckily enough for me, the one I gave her was nicer than the one she had received from her company. Our oldest son brought home a rose of paper and plastics which he had made by himself in school and also a children’s book which a local book store had sponsored as a give-away. To sum up, we all scored well on gifts, but still this was nothing compared to celebrating a relaxed Sant Jordi during a weekend.