“Feliç dia de Sant Jordi” has been echoing today throughout Spain’s northeastern region of Catalunya, known for the bustling beach resorts of Costa Brava. The occasion is a celebration of love and romance, similar to St. Valentine’s Day in many areas of the world, and commemorates the death of Saint George.
In Barcelona, Catalunya’s primary province and its regional capital, the Sant Jordí Festival, sometimes called “The Festival of the Rose & Book,” is celebrated annually on April 23.
Like Valentine’s Day, it isn’t a public holiday, but that doesn’t hinder it from being one of the most popular celebrations of the year in Barcelona, as well the rest of the region — and it certainly doesn’t stop the unmistakable feeling of love that permeates the air.
The holiday and festival celebrating it — which sees thousands of Catalan locals heading out to the walk the streets and enjoy the festivities — stem from the well-known legend of Saint George and the Dragon.
The story tells of Saint George’s rescue of a princess from a venom-spewing dragon that was poisoning the countryside of Silene in Libya.
Providing sacrifices to the dragon in an effort to prevent it from harming the kingdom, the king’s daughter eventually was chosen by lottery to sacrifice her life to appease the beast.
Dressed as a bride and sent out into the water, the princess was to become the dragon’s next meal. But, just in the nick of time, Saint George arrived. As the dragon emerged from the pond to feed on his royal offering, the gallant knight charged on horseback, seriously wounding the creature by piercing it with his lance.
Leading the dragon back to Silene, George offered to kill the beast if the villagers would agree to convert to Christianity and being baptized. They agreed, including the king, and George beheaded the dragon with his sword.
The king built a church in honor of the Virgin Mary and Saint George on the site where the dragon was slain. A spring of water, which cured all disease, is said to have flowed from its altar.
While various versions of the legend have been circulated, the heroic story of Saint George saving a beautiful princess from falling prey to a dragon that’d been terrorizing her kingdom remains constant.
Sant Jordí is the patron saint of Catalunya — and many other places — and his story is recounted to this day. The Dia de Sant Jordí is held in memoriam of his death, which occurred on April 23 in the year 303 A.D.
Although once customary for books to be the exclusive gift presented to men and the rose for women, that tradition has evolved throughout the years.
And, while the rose is traditionally red, and that is still the most popular color given, many colors of roses are available for purchase on this holiday. According to barcelonayellow.com, more than 7 million roses are expected to be sold this year during the day’s celebrations.
In addition to gift-giving, many cultural activities for both children and adults take place during the festival Filled with book stalls and book markets, the streets of Barcelona are alive with book signings, live readings, author appearances and meet and greets, and live music.
Cake and pastry shops, as well as bakeries, get in on the festivities, too, offering plenty of the popular and traditional pa de Sant Jordí, a special bread made with cured red sausage and yellow cheese to represent the colors of the Catalan flag.