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Draped in red and yellow pinstripes and littered with red roses and books, Barcelona is a beautiful city to be in on St. Jordi’s Day.

St. Jordi’s Day is like the Catalan version of Valentine’s Day. It is a romantic holiday with a tradition of men giving women roses and women giving men books…but with feminist and equality movements, it is now just as likely for anyone to receive a rose as it is a book despite their gender identity. It is a beautiful day filled with couples, roses, books, and lots of fun. Although it is not a national holiday where people have the day off to celebrate, lots of people flooded the streets and there was a clear difference in the day’s energy. 

This Catalan holiday comes from the legend of Saint George. In this legend, St. George defeated a dragon who was reigning terror over the village and the princess. To stop the dragon, each year the village had a lottery to choose one human sacrifice. But, one year, the princess was chosen to be taken by the dragon. When she was chosen, St. George slayed the dragon, saved the princess, and gave her a rose that bloomed from the blood of the dragon.

But how are books involved? April 23rd marks the death anniversary of Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes’ death and it is world book day! So, Catalonia combines the two holidays with a tradition of men giving women roses and women giving men books. 

For me, this was a magical day where you could really feel a difference in the air. Because of COVID, we didn’t experience everything that April 23rd usually has to offer…but, it was amazing nonetheless! To start the day, my roommate, host mom, and I walked from our neighborhood (Sarria) to the Palau de la Música. The walk probably took twice as long as public transportation would, but our host mom wanted us to see how beautiful the streets were. At the Palau de la Música, we met up with some of the Barcelona SAE staff, the rest of the group, and their host families if they could attend. We had a small breakfast and coffee right outside the beautiful venue! It was really cool to spend time with our host mom outside of the house and see everyone else’s families. Typically, we get to converse and eat with everyone, but all of our tables were separated to abide by COVID precautions. In some ways though, I actually preferred this because it was another chance to connect with our host mom.

My roommate Aileen, our host mom and myself enjoying the breakfast planned by Barcelona SAE.

After breakfast, all of us students walked to the Arc de Triomf to hang out, people watch, and enjoy the beautiful weather. Along the busy street, there were a bunch of tents with vendors selling books with a long line of people waiting to get in.

A long line to look through the many bookstalls in front of the Arc de Triomf.

Then, we got lunch and went our separate ways to check out some other activities and explore. I went to areas like Las Ramblas and Plaça Catalunya. The city was transformed all morning and night with a swarm of people carrying their bright red flowers, walking with their partners, or waiting to get gifts for their loved ones. Everywhere I went, I was amazed by the number of people and how they came together to celebrate this Catalan tradition. Aside from the masks, it felt like a moment of normal life!

Las Ramblas was decorated with Catalan flags and vendors selling flowers, stuffed dragons, and books. This was actually the most people I’ve seen on the streets since I’ve been here – a small taste of normal.

Then, we met back up again to sit on Plaça d’Espanya hoping that the Magic Fountain would turn on (spoiler alert – it’s been closed since April 2020). But, we still had lots of fun together! 

Sadly, we are getting ready to finish our program and head back to the states. As a Barcelona SAE staff member said, not many Americans (especially right now!) can say that they got to experience this holiday while in Spain.

I am so glad that I got to experience St. Jordi’s Day as one of our last memories of our time studying abroad in Barcelona. 

Me, Maddie, Ally, Aileen, and Emily in front of the Arc after breakfast.
Mia Davis

Mia is a Nursing major from Illinois Wesleyan University, and studied abroad through a Customized Program in Spring 2021.