Saint George's Day (Spain)
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Saint George's Day is celebrated on April 23rd but festivities may also begin on the eve of his feast day, on April 22nd.
The earliest patronage of Saint George begins around the year 1096 when, according to legend, King Peter I of Aragon won the Battle of Alcoraz and vanquished the Moors as a result of his saintly intervention. His patronage in many cities and towns around the country is directly related to victorious battles of the "Reconquista."
Saint George has been the patron saint of Cáceres, since 1229 A.D.
The saint is also highly revered in the city of Alcoy, Valencia where the festivities include a parade of reenactments of Moors versus Christians, but the core of the commemoration focuses mainly on the legend of Saint George slaying a dragon to save a princess (see: Saint George and the Dragon).
The oldest legend for Saint George in Spain dates back to the 11th century and is directly related to his association and patronage with Crusading Christian armies in the Reconquista, where he appears above the field of battle on a steed bearing a red cross on a white flag and rallying the troops to muster all their energies against the enemy. The first documented source for the legend is at the Battle of Alcoraz. Such was the victory and fame that came from this decisive battle that thereafter St. George became a rallying cry for Crusaders throughout Spain, Portugal, Europe and all around the Mediterranean. The St. George legend strongly parallels the story of an earlier apparition by the apostle Saint James at the Battle of Clavijo helping the Christian army to victory against the Moors.
This is primarily the legend popular all over Catalonia, Spain. In Montblanc – the region's name changes depending on the person asked – there was a dragon attacking the kingdom. Scared to death, the inhabitants decided to give two lambs every day to the dragon to satisfy its hunger and prevent attack on the village. But when the animals became scarce it was decided to send a person, chosen by drawing lots, and a lamb. When a family member was devoured by the dragon, the family received a rich compensation from the Kingdom's Treasury.
There are two versions of the legend at this juncture: the first one involves people getting tired of no member of the royal family being sent and therefore decide that the princess should be sent to the Dragon; while the second version says that one day a princess was chosen by drawing lots to accompany the lamb. In any case, on the cave of the dragon, the princess found a gentleman or knight of the name Jordi (George) and he slew the dragon by stabbing his sword into it and rescued her. From the blood that flowed from the lifeless body of the monster was born a red rose which the gentleman handed to the princess.
The king offered the gentleman all the riches imaginable but he preferred that the riches be allocated to the inhabitants of the kingdom. In addition, a church was built in his name, from which flowed miraculous water that was able to heal the sick.
Therefore, in Catalonia, Balearic Islands and parts of Valencia, it is customary on 23 April for men give away roses to women, like the knight who addressed the princess. The women give the men a book, remembering the death and burial respectively of two great European literary personalities, Miguel de Cervantes and Shakespeare, and the Spanish notable literary personality, Inca Garcilaso.
The Feast of St George has always been celebrated enthusiastically throughout the Kingdom, Crown and present day region of Aragon. Aragon celebrates its national "Día de Aragón" (Day of Aragon) in commemoration of the Battle of Alcoraz, when Huesca was conquered by the Aragonese army and where St George allegedly appeared to the Christian forces at a critical moment in the battle, aiding them to victory for the "True Faith".
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La Diada de Sant Jordi (Catalan pronunciation: [lə ðiˈaðə ðə ˈsaɲ ˈʒɔɾði], Saint George's Day), also known as El Dia de la Rosa (The Day of the Rose) or El Dia del Llibre (The Day of the Book) is on 23 April, since 1926. The main event is the exchange of roses and books between sweethearts, loved ones and colleagues. It is a very similar celebration to Valentine's Day in the English-speaking world, which makes many Catalan people revindicate this holiday as the true Day of Love in Catalonia and it makes Valentine's Day be seen as an invasive holiday or an example of cultural homogenization. Historically, men gave women roses, and women gave men a book to celebrate the occasion – "a rose for love and a book forever." In modern times, the mutual exchange of books is also customary. Roses have been associated with this day since medieval times, but the giving of books is a more recent tradition originating in 1923, when a bookseller started to promote the holiday as a way to commemorate the nearly simultaneous deaths of Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare on 23 April 1616. (Both authors died on this date, but not on the same day, as Spain and England kept different calendars at that time.) Barcelona is the publishing capital of both Catalan and Spanish languages and the combination of love and literacy was quickly adopted.
In Barcelona's most visited street, La Rambla, and all over Catalonia, thousands of stands of roses and makeshift bookstalls are set up for the occasion. By the end of the day, some six million roses and 800,000 books will have been purchased. Most women will carry a rose in hand, and half of the total yearly book sales in Catalonia take place on this occasion.
The sardana, the national dance of Catalonia, is performed throughout the day in the Plaça Sant Jaume in Barcelona. Many book stores and cafes host readings by authors (including 24-hour marathon readings of different classics of Catalan literature or Spanish literature). Street performers and musicians in public squares add to the day's atmosphere.
23 April is also one of only three days a year when the Palau de la Generalitat, Barcelona's principal government building, is open to the public. The interior is decorated with roses to honour Saint George.
One notable celebration is in the Valencian city of Alcoi. There, Saint George's Day is commemorated as a thanksgiving celebration for the proclaimed aid the Saint provided to the Christian troops fighting the Muslims in the siege of the city. Its citizens commemorate the day with a festivity in which thousands of people parade in medieval costumes, forming two "armies" of Moors and Christians and re-enacting the siege that gave the city to the Christians.