Catalonia’s celebration of books and roses

April 23 is one of the country’s main annual dates when people are out searching for the ideal Sant Jordi gift

book sales amount to more than €20m, and 2017 was a good year for the publishing industry, with sales up 4% to €21.8mLast year alone the Barcelona city council granted more than 5,000 licences for flower stalls, a figure set to rise again in 2018

It is not a public holiday and is just a day like any other. While children go to school, and their parents go to work, the shops are open for business as usual. Yet April 23 is one of the most important dates on Catalonia’s annual calendar of festivals. Saint George’s Day, known locally as the Diada de Sant Jordi, which honours Catalonia’s patron saint, is observed by thousands of people every year in towns all over the country.

The ingredients for a successful Sant Jordi’s day are as simple as they are unique. First you need plenty of people on the streets enjoying the spring sunshine, then you need stalls selling roses and others selling books. Tradition has it that men give their sweethearts a rose and in exchange they receive a book, although in today’s more egalitarian society all sorts of alternative arrangements have become the norm.

What remains true, however, is that Sant Jordi’s Day is not only a big date for the general public, but is a key moment in the year for both the publishing and the flower sectors. Booksellers in particular look forward to the boost to sales provided by April 23, which is also UNESCO’s World Book Day (see inset). On a typical Sant Jordi’s Day book sales amount to more than 20 million euros, and last year was a particularly good year for the local publishing industry, with sales up 4% over the previous year, to 21.8 million euros. More than 1.6 million books were sold on the day in 2017, some 10% of the sector’s entire sales for the year, according to the booksellers’ association – the Gremi de Llibreters de Catalunya.

Meanwhile the flower sellers association, the Gremi de Floristes de Catalunya, last year reported that it was “very happy” about reaching its goal of selling six million roses on April 23. Local flower producers can only satisfy 20% of the demand for roses on the day, with the rest imported, especially from the Netherlands and Latin America. On April 23, flower stalls are everywhere and last year alone the Barcelona city council granted more than 5,000 licences for flower stalls, a figure set to rise again in 2018. At the same time, many schoolchildren will also set up flower stalls to sell roses, using the profits to fund their end of year school trips.

The day of books and roses, as Sant Jordi’s Day is also called, has its origins in the 15th century, although it has only existed in its present form since 1931. The modern Sant Jordi’s Day was first mooted in 1929, as part of the International Exposition held in Barcelona. Booksellers began to take their wares on to the streets, originally in October, and two years later the day was moved to April, where it has remained ever since. Since then Sant Jordi’s Day has evolved into a type of Catalan Saint Valentine’s Day, as well as being a celebration of reading and the ideal excuse to spend some time strolling through the streets in the springtime sun.

Sant Jordi’s Day

Athens the book capital

April 23 is also World Book and Copyright Day. In 1995, UNESCO chose April 23 – the anniversary of the writers Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare – as its annual day promoting reading. Each year, UNESCO also chooses a city to be the World Book Capital for the coming year. This year’s World Book Capital is Athens, and the aim is to make books more available to everyone in the city, but especially migrants and refugees who are in Greece due to the migration crisis.

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