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Books and Roses - Celebrating Diada de Sant Jordi

From Barcelona to Dublin with love

Dear Dublin, my adopted city,

Usually on this day, streets all over Catalonia are filled with stalls selling books and roses as part of Diada de Sant Jordi. Sant Jordi is the patron saint of Catalonia and this festive occasion has become a celebration of culture and love, represented through books and roses. It is, by far, my favourite day of the year. Street corners, avenues, roads, and squares throughout the region are dressed with lovely kiosks that sell books of all genres and roses of all colours. Traditionally, books and roses are given away to sweethearts, however, over the years, the idea of giving a rose or a book as a symbol of love to a sweetheart has also become a gift of friendship and kindness. We give roses and books to all of the people we love!

On Saint Jordi’s day it is normal to find books in every language. Local and international writers wait in pop-up gazebos that book shops erect on the street, for their biggest readers to come and meet them. The streets get very busy and readers can queue for hours looking for the autograph of their dearest authors. I travelled to Barcelona last year to meet my favourite poet Patricia Benito as soon as I found out she was one of the featured authors in the festival. I got to meet her and understood why her poetry amazes me.

So, how did the tradition of books and roses come about?

Diada de Sant Jordi is held across the region of Catalonia on April 23rd, the day Saint Jordi/St. George died. He was under the orders of the Roman emperor Diocletian and refused to persecute Christians, so he was decapitated. Very soon he started to be revered as a martyr and fantastical stories about him began to circulate. The Catalan version of the myth of Sant Jordi tells that after a battle between Sant Jordi and a dragon, when Sant Jordi rescued a princess that was captured by a dragon, the beast fell pierced by sharp iron. From the drops of blood of the dragon a rosebush grew that blooms each April. This is how the tradition of giving roses on this day was born.

We can trace the day’s association to books back to the 1920s. During the International Exhibition held in Barcelona in 1929, booksellers decided to set up stalls on the streets, to present their new publications and encourage reading. The initiative was so successful they decided to establish April 23rd as Book Day, because that is the day when two of the great names in the history of literature died: Cervantes and Shakespeare.

From the very beginning this festive occasion has given a big boost to Catalan publishers and that is still its essence today. But such has been the impact of Catalonia’s book day that, in 1995, UNESCO declared April 23rd World Book and Copyright Day.

Over the years, I have so many happy memories of wandering through streets filled with books and roses with my best friends! For me it’s always been a day to celebrate friendship. It is a tradition that 6th class primary school students all over Catalonia set up a stall with roses at the door of their school. The proceeds from the sale goes into a pot for their end of primary school trip! Children work together on that day more than ever, all dreaming about their trip so any help is welcome!

Since I became an adult, every April 23rd, I look nostalgically at the scholars approaching on the street with roses in their hands telling you all their plans for what they think would be the best school trip ever.

Now, two decades later, every April 23rd, I continue wandering through the joyful streets of my city with some of those friends, the children from my 6th class who are still in my life and love the day, just like me. This year, sadly, Diada de Sant Jordi was cancelled due to the ongoing Covid-19 health crisis but we managed to get together virtually and wished Happy Sant Jordi to each other.

People in Catalonia really felt the cancelation this year and came together with ideas to celebrate the day from home. Some famous authors did live online readings and some people made roses with materials they had in their houses to decorate their balconies. We all look forward to next year, it will be a very special Diada de Sant Jordi, perhaps more special than ever.

With love,

Sandra

Sandra Rodriguez Campos is Engagement Manager with Dublin City Council Culture Company. She is currently working from her family home in Barcelona and although we are all in touch daily, we look forward to the day when Sandra can come home to Dublin - we miss her!

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