For most of this week I have felt like Harry Potter, in the last movie when he is asked about the Tale of the Three Brothers.
“You know, the tale of Sant Jordi?”, people say expectedly.
The tale, told to me several times in the past week, goes that once upon a time, a small Catalonian town was terrorised by a dragon that was killing all of the farm animals. To keep the dragon happy, the townspeople reluctantly decided to offer one person/beautiful person/ virgin every day.
One day, the King’s daughter was selected to be sacrificed. Just as she was about to be eaten by the dragon, Sant Jordi, a courageous knight, sallied forth and slayed the beast with his sword, saving the beautiful princess. Where the dragon’s blood pooled on the ground, a marvellous red rose bush grew.
Sant Jordi (or Saint George in English) is the patron saint of Catalonia, and a heap of other places as well. The four red stripes of the Catalan flag (apparently) come from the dragon’s blood-soaked claws, and the story is taught to children all around the region. La Diada de Sant Jordi on April 23 commemorates the date of his death around 300BC, and is the day of love in Catalonia, even more than Valentine’s Day.
Since the late 1920s, April 23 has also been Book Day in Catalonia (growing to officially become World Book Day in 1999), to commemorate the deaths of both Cervantes and, it turned out, Shakespeare.
Combining these two traditions, La Diada de Sant Jordi is now the day of the book and the rose all across Catalonia. Boys give their girls a rose, while girls gift a book to their fellas. Or vice versa, you know, as it’s 2015. In Barcelona and Tarragona, Las Ramblas are packed with stalls and lovers, and several people told me it is one of the most beautiful days to be in these cities.
In Tortosa, Sant Jordi was celebrated along Carrer de Sant Blai, the main pedestrian street in town. Stalls appeared overnight covered in roses and books: local books shops, schools, charities and political parties represented, selling new and second-hand books, as well as roses wrapped in Catalan colours. We could have bought yellow roses, many many picture books about Sant Jordi, and even a guide to the Dragons of Catalonia.
The weather was perfect and it was a very festive atmosphere. Perhaps not as spectacular as the book fairs in Barça, but great fun all the same. We soaked up the atmosphere with some ice-cream, and later some cava, definitely feeling the romance in the air. I was even lucky enough to receive a rose!