On the face of it, it sounds sad: in Catalonia, they don’t really celebrate Valentine’s Day. But the reason is that the Catalans have another day which is - arguably - far better. It’s a holiday that is as romantic as a bunch of red roses, but also takes in much, much more: Sant Jordi, on April 23rd, a day which combines love, flowers, gift-giving, the celebration of books, culture and history, and is deeply enjoyed all over Catalonia and perhaps in the city of Barcelona more than anywhere else. Sant Jordi, the holy figure we call Saint George in English, is the patron saint of Catalonia. His iconic red cross symbol can be found in the architectural design of important buildings across Barcelona, and even in the FC Barcelona logo. Discover everything you need to know about this diada -  festive day - in Catalonia and how to celebrate Sant Jordi 2023 in Barcelona.

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Legend and history of Sant Jordi

The story of Sant Jordi goes back to a time of dragons and knights. Essentially, the legend in Catalonia states that a dragon controlled the town of Montblanc, forcing the townspeople to feed it cattle so it would spare them. When the cattle ran out, they decided to draw names to see who would be fed to the dragon. When the only daughter of the king was chosen, the king announced that whoever could kill the dragon would marry the princess. It is said that Sant Jordi stepped up and killed the dragon by stabbing him through the throat with his sword, saving the princess from a deadly fate. Some believe that when the dragon bled, a bush of red roses appeared. Aside from this tale of Sant Jordi’s bravery, he is also recognized for his dedication to Christianity. On April 23rd, he was decapitated for refusing the order of Roman Emperor Diocletian to persecute Christians. He is now the Patron Saint of Catalonia and is celebrated every year on April 23rd.

The importance of books and roses on Sant Jordi

To commemorate Sant Jordi, there are special traditions throughout Barcelona. When celebrating Sant Jordi in Barcelona, you will see books and roses everywhere. But what do these have to do with the patron saint? Well, the way it has evolved, April 23rd is also National Book Day of Catalonia. April 23rd was chosen because in 1616, both Cervantes and Shakespeare, two of the most famous writers, passed away on that date. Now, it is an important day for book launches, signings and other related events. It is also one of the days with the highest book sales, and the holiday has even been exported by Catalonia: since the 1990s, April 23rd has been UNESCO's World Book Day. As for roses, during the 15th century, there was a mass held for Sant Jordi in the Palau de la Generalitat at the same time as a rose fair was being held in the courtyard of the same building. When the people left mass, they started giving each other roses, leading to some of the cherished Sant Jordi traditions that continue today. 

How to celebrate Sant Jordi 2023 in Barcelona

Incorporating both books and roses into the celebration of Sant Jordi, it is tradition for couples to exchange both books and roses to show their love. Historically, men were supposed to give women roses and women were supposed to give men books. Over time, this tradition has modernized to include couples of all types and preferences, so it is customary to exchange both a rose and a book for each person. When celebrating Sant Jordi 2023 in Barcelona, you will see rose and book stands throughout the city, with the traditional book tables returning to La Rambla this year as well as in the literary super-block in Passeig de Gràcia. Since the Sant Jordi celebration is central in Catalan culture, you will see many Catalan symbols such as Catalan senyera and estelada flags hanging from balconies and castells, the human towers, in the squares. You do not want to miss Sant Jordi 2023, a day of love and celebration in Barcelona.