People who can celebrate their patron saint with books and roses have to have something going for them. Sant Jordi (Saint George) is Catalunya’s patron saint and celebrate with books and roses is exactly what Catalans do.
The reason for the rose is simple. George killed the dragon (and saved the princess) and where the dragon’s blood fell a red rose grew.
Sant Jordi became a Catalan holiday in 1456 and ever since then men have been giving their loved one a red rose.
But the book? Was George an avid reader? Did he write? The idea of the book came from a Barcelona bookseller way back in 1923 when he realized that William Shakespeare and Miquel Cervantes both died on 23 April 1616 (although it seems that Cervantes died on 22 April and was buried on the 23rd, but never mind) and thought maybe this coincidence would improve business.
And so it came to be that 23 April is celebrated with roses and books. The tradition is that the man gives the woman a rose and the woman gives the man a book. But in fact, it is much more free-form than that and there are lots of books for children as well as for adults.
Sant Jordi is lovely. In any city, town, or village, the main street or square will be lined with stalls selling books and roses. Some of the stands are from bookshops and florists, others are non-profit, community, and political organizations set up to sell flowers or books or both as fund-raisers. As you'd expect, the biggest book and flower fair is on the Rambla in Barcelona which is packed down its length and from side to side with books and roses, and teaming with thousands of people. The Rambla of Figueres was also teaming with people when I went at noon with Cupcake to visit the stand of the rescue group who brought him to me. But it was so crowded that I couldn't walk comfortably with the dog. When I returned later, closer to lunch time, it had thinned out and I could take some photos. When I too left to return home for lunch, it was clouding up, and while I was still walking it started to rain.
In 1995, seeing the Catalan holiday and thinking that celebrating books (and the death of two of literature's greatest) was a good idea, UNESCO declared 23 April World Book Day. And so now, it is possible that in any city anywhere you might find a book celebration, especially this year, the 400th anniversary of the death of the two greats. If you don’t find one, you might want to help instigate one for next year. It’s never too late to celebrate.