Saint George's Day (Spain)

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The Día de San Jorge in the Plaza de Aragón, Zaragoza, Spain

Saint George's Day (Día de San Jorge) is traditionally celebrated in several regions of Spain.

Saint George is the patron saint of the former Crown of Aragon, since King Peter I of Aragon won the Battle of Alcoraz with his patronage. He is also patron of several cities. In most cases, the reason for those cities' relation with the Saint as their holy Patron is linked to historic events which happened during the "Reconquista."

The Saint's feast is also celebrated in many towns outside the former Crown of Aragon in Spain. Saint George has been the patron saint of Cáceres, since 1229 A.D. Celebration of Saint George's Day in Cáceres is strongly centred in the world of legends. The saint, also is highly revered in the city of Alcoy, who is the patron saint. In his honor they are celebrated the festival of Moors and Christians. Celebrations include a parade featuring re-enactors of Moorish and Christian soldiers but the core of the commemoration focuses mainly on the legend of Saint George slaying a dragon to save a princess (see: Saint George and the Dragon).

Legend[edit]

This is primarily the legend popular all over Catalonia, Spain. In Montblanc – the region's name changes depending on the person asked, there was a dragon attacking the kingdom. Scared to death, the inhabitants decided to give two lambs every day to the dragon to satisfy its hunger and prevent attack on the village. But when the animals became scarce it was decided to send a person, chosen by drawing lots, and a lamb. When a family member was devoured by the dragon, the family received a rich compensation from the Kingdom's Treasury.

There are two versions of the legend at this juncture: the first one involves people getting tired of no member of the royal family being sent and therefore decide that the princess should be sent to the Dragon; while the second version says that one day a princess was chosen by drawing lots to accompany the lamb. In any case, on the cave of the dragon, the princess found a gentleman or knight of the name Jordi (George) and he slew the dragon by stabbing his sword into it and rescued her. From the blood that flowed from the lifeless body of the monster was born a red rose which the gentleman handed to the princess.

The king offered the gentleman all the riches imaginable but he preferred that the riches be allocated to the inhabitants of the kingdom. In addition, a church was built in his name, from which flowed miraculous water that was able to heal the sick.


Therefore, in Catalonia, Balearic and parts of Valencia, it is customary on 23 April for men give away roses to women, like the knight who addressed the princess. The women give the men a book, remembering the death and burial respectively of two great European literary personalities, Miguel de Cervantes and Shakespeare, and the Spanish notable literary personality, Inca Garcilaso.

Aragon[edit]

As in the rest of the ancient Crown of Aragon, the Feast of St George is celebrated enthusiastically in the Community of Aragon, being the country's patron saint and its national day. On 23 April, Aragon celebrates its "Día de Aragón" (Day of Aragon) in commemoration of the Battle of Alcoraz (Baralla d'Alcoraz in Aragonese), on which Huesca was conquered by the Aragonese army and in which tradition says that St George appeared at a critical moment for the Christian Army, aiding them to win the battle for the "True Faith".

As in Catalonia, roses and books are exchanged among individuals, often bearing ribbons with the colours of Aragon's flag.

Catalonia[edit]

A rose stall in Barcelona, St. George's Day, 2006
Cake of Sant Jordi, in Catalonia
Saint George by Joan Rebull, in Rambla de Catalunya, Barcelona

La Diada de Sant Jordi (Catalan pronunciation: [ɫə ðiˈaðə ðə ˈsan ˈʒɔrði], Saint George's Day), also known as El Dia de la Rosa (The Day of the Rose) or El Dia del Llibre (The Day of the Book) is a Catalan holiday held on 23 April, with similarities to Valentine's Day and some unique twists that reflect the antiquity of the celebrations. The main event is the exchange of gifts between sweethearts, loved ones and colleagues. Historically, men gave women roses, and women gave men a book to celebrate the occasion – "a rose for love and a book forever." In modern times, the mutual exchange of books is also customary. Roses have been associated with this day since medieval times, but the giving of books is a more recent tradition originating in 1923, when a bookseller started to promote the holiday as a way to commemorate the nearly simultaneous deaths of Miguel Cervantes and William Shakespeare on 23 April 1616. Barcelona is the publishing capital of both Catalan and Spanish languages and the combination of love and literacy was quickly adopted.

In Barcelona's most visited street, La Rambla, and all over Catalonia, thousands of stands of roses and makeshift bookstalls are set up for the occasion. By the end of the day, some six million roses and 800,000 books will have been purchased. Most women will carry a rose in hand, and half of the total yearly book sales in Catalonia take place on this occasion.

The sardana, the national dance of Catalonia, is performed throughout the day in the Plaça Sant Jaume in Barcelona. Many book stores and cafes host readings by authors (including 24-hour marathon readings of different classics of Catalan literature or Spanish literature). Street performers and musicians in public squares add to the day's atmosphere.

23 April is also one of only three days a year when the Palau de la Generalitat, Barcelona's principal government building, is open to the public. The interior is decorated with roses to honour Saint George.

Catalonia exported its tradition of the book and the rose to the rest of the world. In 1995, UNESCO adopted 23 April as World Book Day.

Valencia[edit]

Valencia celebrates St George's Day with a different intensity, though in several zones it has similarities to Valentine's Day, like in Catalonia.

One notable celebration is in the Valencian city of Alcoi. There, Saint George's Day is commemorated as a thanksgiving celebration for the proclaimed aid the Saint provided to the Christian troops fighting the Muslims in the siege of the city. Its citizens commemorate the day with a festivity in which thousands of people parade in medieval costumes, forming two "armies" of Moors and Christians and re-enacting the siege that gave the city to the Christians.


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