World Book Day is celebrated on 23 April every year. Writers and readers alike have found many ways to recognize this day. But in Spain, people are romancing the book! This article will tell you all about it.
Romancing The Book On World Book Day
Writers and readers unite every year on 23 April when they celebrate World Book Day. It is organized each year by UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific Organisation) to promote reading, publishing, and copyright (here’s more on World Book Day).
Book fairs, readings, meet-and-greets with famous authors, and other literary events are on the agenda in many cities. It’s a celebration of the mind. This tends to be very intellectual, even academic. But that’s not the case at all in Spain, especially in the region of Catalonia. Why? Because this date has a special meaning to Spain.
How World Book Day Came About
First of all, the idea to celebrate the book is a Spanish one! It originated in Barcelona. In 1922, Vicente Clavel, director of the Cervantes publishing house, decided he wanted to honour the author Miguel de Cervantes.
So, Spain celebrated the first Book Day ever in 1926, on Cervantes’ birthday on 7 October. In 1930, this date was moved to Cervantes’ death date on 23 April. It took until 1995 for the United Nations to officially recognize this date. From then on, it was called ‘World Book Day.’
Incidentally, World Book Day also commemorates William Shakespeare’s death date on 23 April 1616. Isn’t that a wonderful coincidence? Two of the world’s greatest storytellers are remembered on World Book Day. There are, of course, many more authors to celebrate on this day (check our literary calendar).
Spain And Books
Let’s look at World Book Day in the region of Catalonia. If you think it’s a formal black-tie event, then you’re quite mistaken. It has the atmosphere of a street festival! Barcelona and the Catalonians are very enthusiastic when it comes to celebrating books.
To the Spanish, Miguel de Cervantes is almost a national hero. His novel Don Quixote is considered to be the first novel ever written. Even though it was published in 1605, it is still among the top best-selling books worldwide. Modern authors can only dream about those book sales.
But the Spanish love affair with books goes even further. To understand this, you need to know that the Spanish have a different name for World Book Day. They most often call it ‘Sant Jordi,’ or ‘The Festival of Books and Roses.’ That’s because it coincides with the feast day of St. George (Sant Jordi in Spanish). This was and still is a major influence on Spanish tradition for World Book Day.
Sant Jordi / Saint George
The legend of Saint George itself has very little to do with books. It is the story of a dragon pestering a kingdom. The dragon could only be pacified by sacrificing virgins until St. George came to slay the dragon. Many countries know a version of this legend.
In Catalonia (that’s the region where Book Day originated), people believed that St. George saved the king’s daughter and gave her a red rose. This rose had grown on a bush miraculously sprouting from the pool of the dragon’s blood. That alone is a wonderful story, isn’t it?
Tradition has it that on Sant Jordi’s feast day, people in Catalonia offer red roses to their loved ones. When World Book Day came along, this tradition changed.
Red Roses And Books
In Catalonia, the festival of Sant Jordi and World Book Day became practically one. You could say it’s a Spanish version of Valentine’s Day.
The tradition of giving roses now involved gifting books. Men offer red roses to all the special women in their lives (including mothers, and sisters!). Women, in turn, gift books to their husbands, lovers, and brothers. Of course, there’s no need to stick to stereotypes. If you fancy just giving books to everybody, go ahead! And roses are always welcome, aren’t they?
How Catalonia Celebrates World Book Day
In Barcelona, the biggest city in Catalonia, there’s a great book fair taking place. Spanish authors come for readings and book signings. Even smaller neighbourhoods host all kinds of bookish events. This tradition of books and roses is celebrated in all of Catalonia.
You’ll find people holding hands, buying red roses, and browsing through the street stalls of book vendors. Often, even librarians take their books outside to show old and new classics. It’s books and roses everywhere. Even public buildings are decorated with flowers!
Here is the specially decorated Casa Battló in Barcelona.
Since this day is not a public holiday, the shops are open, and the streets are bustling with life.
World Book Day in Catalonia seems to be good for business, too. According to this blogger, there are 4 million roses and 500,000 books sold in Catalonia every year. Romance does sell books!
Romancing The Book
What’s interesting about this tradition is how the Spanish people adapted an ancient tradition to include new impulses. In a way, body and mind are fused. Books are brought from secluded shelves out into the streets. The roses everywhere create a sensual feeling. So, when you give away a book on that day, it really is considered a romantic present.
In contrast, Germany doesn’t have a lot of events for World Book Day. Events centre around the reading comprehension of children. The biggest bookish events in Germany take place on other dates, like book fairs in Leipzig and Frankfurt. Their atmosphere is extremely serious and intellectual. No wonder, these book fairs are marketplaces. Authors and publishers come together to make deals. There’s nothing sensual about it at all.
But wouldn’t it be nice if books had a bit more romance to them?
The Last Word
The official slogan of the Sant Jordi festival is ‘A rose for a love, and a book forever.’ I love this Spanish tradition! I wonder what would happen if a little Sant Jordi would happen in my neighbourhood. Maybe if we bring a little bit of Spanish romance back to books, more children will experience them as sensual and enjoyable. The world needs more readers. And more books.
By Susanne Bennett. Susanne is a German-American writer who is a journalist by trade and a writer by heart. After years of working at German public radio and an online news portal, she has decided to accept challenges by Deadlines for Writers. Currently she is writing her first novel with them. She is known for overweight purses and carrying a novel everywhere. Follow her on Facebook.
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