Surely you’ve all heard about Saint Valentine’s Day before. Lovers’ Day, they say. Well… One could say that Sant Jordi (Saint George in English) is the Catalan equivalent of Saint Valentine. I do not mean to be disrespectful, but to a true Barcelona local, the actual day to shout out that you love someone from the rooftops is Sant Jordi.
Tradition says men must give a rose to their loved one and, in exchange, they will receive a book. What makes Saint George so special, though, is that it doesn’t make anyone feel unwanted or lonely just because they don’t have a boyfriend or a girlfriend. It is the day for LOVE with capital letters. It is the day we show our love and appreciation for our family, our friends and, yes, our partners in life.
April 23rd is a paramount day in Catalan culture in which all sorts of events, concerts and book markets take over the streets. La Rambla is the centre of attention with all the bookstands and authors signing their latest novels. Roses and books are sold in every street. Dragon-shaped pastries and Sant-Jordi-like chocolate candy can be found in bakeries right next to a cheese bread decorated with Majorcan sausage creating the image of a Catalan flag.
Such a wonderful day dates back many many years and it has its roots in The Legend of Saint George. This story goes back to a time when magic, knights, imposing realms and all sort of unimaginable creatures wandered free over the Earth.
In those days, a kingdom known as Montblanc was under the terrifying threat of a merciless dragon. The monster could fly, swim and slither, which made it invisible to its preys until it was too late for them to run and hide. Some said it was 10 meters high by 3 meters wide. Its breath smelt like putrefaction and death. Everyone feared it. It would eat their flocks of sheep, burn all their fields with its flames and devour anything in its path.
They had tried everything. They had spread poison on their lands to kill the dragon, but he was immune to it. They had pointlessly fortified the town. They even offered a reward to any knight who could defeat the beast. However, all attempts failed and they were running out of food.
In a truly desperate moment, it was agreed that every day someone would be sacrificed to meet the needs of the dragon and stop it from destroying the whole town. Lots had to be drawn to decide who would be the sacrifice and the chosen one would walk up to the dragon’s cave to face his or her destiny.
The agreement seemed to work. The dragon seemed to approve of it and let the rest of the town and their fields and sheep alone. One dreadful day, however, the princess was the one chosen. The king was absolutely horrified, but he was a fair king. So, much to his dismay, he had to sacrifice his daughter.
When the sun came up, the princess left the castle and went to the dragon’s cave. The dragon woke up and started to approach her. She was ready to meet her fate and the dragon had already opened his mouth to take the first bite when a lance pierced the dragon’s chest and stuck in his heart. The princess turned around and saw a knight standing from his white horse.
The dragon fell on the floor and his blood made a circle around the princess. From the blood of the dragon, a rosebush emerged. The knight descended from his horse and used his sword to cut one of the roses and give it to the princess. Saint George and the princess fell in love at first sight. When they returned to the castle and announced the great news, Saint George asked for the princess’s hand. She happily accepted and they lived happily ever after.
This is why every year on April 23rd we commemorate this great deed of our beloved hero Sant Jordi and the eternal love between him and the princess. Fun fact: it also coincides with the deaths of the famous writers William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes and Garcilaso de la Vega, which explains the fact that men get a book in return, instead of…let’s say…swords! Although, nowadays women tend to get both a book and a rose!
Aren’t we greedy?
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