Saint George’s Day: Books and Roses in Barcelona

It might seem unexpected to be reading a blog post all about Saint George’s Day for those who know Stryvling Press to be Scottish based. But it turns out – brace for my appalling knowledge of European History – it is a day that the Catalonian region of Spain celebrates through the giving of books.  

As the tale goes, a village in Montblanc was under threat from a dragon. On becoming scarce of lambs to satisfy its hunger, the community decided to sacrifice its people. Eventually, the village grew tired of no royal family member being sent to the dragon and so a princess was selected to settle this disruption. However, the patron saint of the former Crown of Aragon, Saint George, would not stand for this and decided to slaughter the dragon. In doing so, the blood would flow through the entire settlement, miraculously leading to the birth of a single red rose, which he would then pick for the princess herself. Overtime, this has created a somewhat romantic association with the gifting of roses to loved ones. But in 1923, a bookseller saw opportunity to use this celebration as a holiday to promote the almost simultaneous deaths of the great writers, Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare. Thus, women began presenting men with books in exchange of roses. Known as La Diada de Sant Jordi (Saint George’s Day) or even El Día del Libro (The Day of the Book) I remember walking the streets of Barcelona prior to the pandemic, admiring the makeshift bookstalls that towered over La Rambla and Paseo de Gracia, enthralled by the incredible number of people who had flocked to the markets to show love through literature.  

My friend and Artist, Mireia Molina Costa, has described this occasion to me as the “Catalonian Valentine’s Day”, whilst also adding that it is a rather “sexist tradition where women purchase intellect for men” and all they receive are single roses bought for 1 euro down by the metro station. But in an effort to move on from the medieval times of George and his dragon slaying, there has been an influx of couples breaking tradition and strictly only exchanging books with one another. Averaging approximately 800,000 literary sales each year, the occasion has seen the rise of a commercial reading culture across Catalonia. It’s of my personal opinion that if World Book Day is typically seen as a ‘childish’ thing, a day to remember the literary heroes that inspired us all is very much needed. Afterall, if most tradition is the result of a socially unjust history, why not commemorate our future by sharing the stories that changed us, maybe even saved us during lockdown? 

If you haven’t already read the team’s last blog post about what we’ve been reading over the course of the pandemic, it’s a great place to start for some recommendations; especially if you’re looking to gift something to someone special – be it your cat, or your grandmother – a novel or poetry collection by a writer who would have most probably been unworthy of George’s rescue, or any amount of celebration during such medieval times. And I know that times are uncertain, and it’s been a while since we’ve all felt connected, but until the world seems safe again it’s nice to know that I can return to the flavours of pa amb tomàquet and revisit the dances of sardanas at Plaça Sant Jaume by the works of Caterina Albert and Marta Rojals. Perhaps, I can even visit the University of Stirling, or the campus lake, through remembering the Scottish authors that Stryvling Press has previously published, too.  

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