Diada de Sant Jordi: Of Books and Roses

On April 23 of each year, the city of Barcelona is transformed into an outdoor bookstore and flower shop, as booksellers flock to the streets to celebrate Diada de Sant Jordi. To commemorate the day, tradition holds that gifts of books and flowers are exchanged between friends, family members, and lovers.

The Diada de Sant Jordi is a Christian holiday, primarily celebrated in Catalonia, and honours the patron saint of Catalonia, Sant Jordi. Traditional celebrations involving roses began as early as the 1400s, while book giving began in the 1920s, when a writer and publisher proposed the establishment of a Catalan book fair that was eventually merged with the Diada de Sant Jordi. In 1995, UNESCO declared April 23rd as World Book Day.

In celebration of this iconic holiday, the GLOCAL Book Club hosted a special Sant Jordi-themed book exchange. Weather-wise, it was a strange sort of day. From shining sun to torrential downpour to sudden gusts of wind, booksellers were forced to cover their merchandise on numerous occasions throughout the day. 

The weather did not prevent the crowds from congregating downtown, though, with parts of the Gothic Quarter and La Rambla tightly packed with book lovers, tourists, locals, and people who were simply there to take part in the festivities. 

It was impossible to ignore the special energy that vibrated in the city throughout the day. At each corner stood a different stall, selling roses of all colours and books in different languages. To glance up in the subway was to see someone carrying a rose, and to enter a busy cafe was to see a group of friends meeting to exchange books.

Roses and books are aesthetic, and rain can be, too. Barcelona seemed more beautiful than usual, with the grey of the day contrasted by the red of a rose or a momentary glimpse of sunshine — that is, between the bursts of hail that left small piles of ice scattered along the sidewalks.

The GLOCAL Book Club's book exchange

Had Barcelona not been the second stop for GLOCAL students, they may never have been able to experience the special day that is Sant Jordi. Before the tourists come in droves as the summer approaches, Sant Jordi served as a glimpse into a unique moment for Catalonians, and subsequently, a unique moment for the lucky visitors who happened to be in Barcelona on April 23.

A flower market sells yellow and red roses by the bundle in honour of Sant Jordi festivities.
Casa Batillo is decorated each year in roses to commemorate Diada de Sant Jordi.

Read more here about the GLOCAL Book Club!