Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Saint George - dragon + roses + books = Saint George's Day!


Today is Saint George's Day in several parts of Spain (Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia), as well as in England and Portugal. (Saint George also has commemorative days in other countries and cities, including the Republic of Georgia, the Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, and the city of Moscow, but those observations are at different times of the year.)
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Here in Barcelona el Día de San Jorge (Spanish) / la Diada de Sant Jordi (Catalan) is a sort of Valentines-like celebration involving roses and books. Apparently roses have been associated with this day since medieval times, and it is believed that it was in the 15th century that the local tradition began of giving a rose your loved one on this date. A slightly newer tradition is that of giving a book along with the rose. Apparently in 1923 a Barcelona book publisher got the idea to combine the commemoration of the death of Saint George with that of two writers who also died on April 23rd -- Miguel Cervantes and William Shakespeare.
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Nowadays the book and rose are accompanied by a little Catalan flag (la senyera) and a wheat stem. The rose represents passion; the wheat, fertility; the flag, the patron saint of Catalonia -- Saint George! And the book -- well, one could say it represents intellect, but perhaps commerce would be equally accurate. Since Barcelona is the publishing capital of both the Catalan and Spanish languages, it is promoted very heavily by all publishing houses, as well as bookstores, libraries, schools and such. Indeed, it is probably the biggest day for book sales in Catalonia.
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Stalls are set up all over the city to sell books and roses to passers by. Bookstores and libraries host special events, including book signings. This year's hottest seller will probably be "El Juego del Ángel" (The Angel's Game), local writer Carlos Ruíz Zafón's prequel to "La Sombra del Viento," (The Shadow of the Wind) which was published in time to coincide with the festivities. As a matter of fact, he is in town to personally autograph copies.
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Of course there's also a special food tradition -- the Saint George's Day cake, designed to represent the Catalonian Flag. (See photo above.)
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This year's observance has an interesting twist since many Brits are in town to attend the Manchester United vs Barça soccer Champions League semi final at Camp Nou stadium. Thousands of them have been walking around waving red and white flags on a day that honors Catalonia's and England's patron saint.
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As a matter of fact, the city government was a little worried about the possibility of inebriated fans running loose all over the city, so a "ManUn fan village" has been set up in the Olympic Port near my house. Thousands of visitors spent the afternoon drinking and singing beside the marina, while local police quietly patrolled the area. I didn't see too many bookstalls around there.
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Happy Saint George's Day, amig@s,
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Carloz
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P.S. If you haven't read "The Shadow of the Wind", I highly recommend it. It's a good story set in post-civil war Barcelona. The new book, "El Juego del Ángel" (The Angel's Game), is being translated by Lucia Graves, poet Robert Graves' daughter, for publication in spring 2009. This prequel takes place in 1920s and 30s Barcelona.

Click here to see a few photos I took on Saint George's Day. 

4 comments:

M(iška) said...

Books? How cool is that? I am totally going to incorporate book giving into my Valentine's Day traditions. Not the wheat, though. ;)

Carloz said...

And a flag?

Carloz said...

By the way, the soccer match ended up in a draw -- 0 to 0! Well, neither side went home losers. Saint George must be smiling today.

Carloz said...

April 23, 2008 was apparently the Day of the Angel, too: according to the next day´s La Vanguardia newspaper, some 125,000 copies of El Juego del Ángel were sold in only twelve hours on Saint George´s Day! It also reported that since Carlos Ruiz Zafón's new book hit the streets on April 17th, it had sold 580,000 copies!! Saints and angels!!!