Today is World Book (and Copyright) Day, as designated by UNESCO in 1995. It’s also St. George’s Day in Great Britain, a celebration of Englishness in the name of the saint who slew the dragon.
These holidays may sound disparate, but each actually depends upon the other.
Why April 23?
We get the importance of this date from Catalonia, an autonomous region in northeastern Spain with its own language. The Catalans have been celebrating St. George’s Day as la diada de Sant Jordi since at least the 15th century with the giving of roses to represent the tradition of “courtly love.” The Catalan government has a good explanation of how the book first got involved:
In 1926 Spain established April 23rd as the ‘Dia del Llibre’ to commemorate the death of Cervantes, imitating England, where the same day was also celebrated because it coincided with the date of the death of Shakespeare. The celebration quickly became popular in Barcelona and spread to the rest of Catalonia, but the original idea lost importance as it coincided with the day of the Patron Saint. However, while the festival was celebrated very little and even disappeared in some areas, in Catalonia it has become one of the most celebrated festivals, and at the same time, it has promoted and extended the sale of books in Catalan.
That last sentence is very true: a large percentage of yearly book sales in Catalonia take place on this date (one site puts the number at “over half”).
Get Out There and Read!
Sant Jordi is a day to enjoy the spring, to enjoy love and life by buying books and roses for those most special to you. I have celebrated Sant Jordi several times in Barcelona and it’s like a citywide Valentine’s Day, more inclusive than our Anglo-Saxon holiday of cards and chocolate. The Catalans ascribe meaning to the color of the rose, just as the English did in the Victorian era, so that the flowers can represent many forms of love: yellow for friendship, red for romance, and more.
World Book Day takes some of that spirit beyond the Spanish border. While Catalan women spend the day today searching for the perfect book to buy for the men they love, UNESCO has ensured that we each take at least a moment to think about literature today.
When you do, dear reader, I hope you’ll remember us translators, too: the life behind the books.
Happy reading! Happy spring!