St. Jordi’s Day, as Explained by an American-Israeli Jew

…Yes, it is Israeli Independence Day. (Whee!)

Blue food coloring, anyone?
Blue food coloring, anyone?

But it just so happens that this year (2015), it coincides with a holiday that is celebrated in a distinct way in Catalonia. Since I already described Yom Ha’Atzma’ut to you, I’m going to give Josep a good laugh, and attempt to explain about La Diada de Sant Jordi, a.k.a., St. Jordi’s Day.

So. What is St. Jordi’s Day? Well… it’s kind of the Catalan Valentine’s Day. Only with dragons. And Shakespeare.

…Stay with me here.

Let’s take it from the top: “Jordi” is the Catalan version of the name George. Ahhh, the Catholics say. Right. April 23rd is St. George’s Day. St. George is apparently a pretty popular saint, because aside from being the patron saint of England, he was also the patron saint of Aragon (and Catalonia. They were sort of the same thing at the time. Except not. Iberian history is terribly confusing). Peter I of Aragon declared him thus when he won an important battle under St. George’s patronage. I guess no one told him the Brits had dibs on ol’ George five hundred years prior. Well actually a lot of people/cities/countries apparently missed that memo, from Beirut to the Boy Scouts. Like I said. Popular.

Speaking of lack of creativity, because St. Jordi is so popular in Catalonia, approximately 99.7% of Catalan males are named Jordi. (…Okay, that assertion is patently false. Point is, it’s a very popular name, kind of equivalent to John in the USA or, I dunno, David in Israel.)

So why does the dude have so many fans? Not very clear. As a historical figure there isn’t very much known about him. The legend that is popular in Catalonia goes something like this: so there’s this dragon, right, and there’s this village, and for some reason they aren’t getting along. (Something about poisoning the air? Or getting in the way of a well? There are a few different versions…) So the villagers need to sacrifice sheep to appease said dragon, or maybe the dragon was stealing their livestock, or they have to distract him away from the well. Anyhow, when they run out of sheep they start using young maidens. (A fairly natural progression, apparently. Personally I might have tried chocolate cake first, but no one asked me.) So one day the maiden chosen is the princess, and she sets off to meet her fate, but in the nick of time–cue victorious music–along comes St. Jordi on his white horse and slays the dragon with his sword! Or was it a lance?

Yeah, that looks like a lance.

In any event, the dragon’s blood flows to the earth and from it, a single red rose blossoms. St. Jordi picks the rose and gives it to the princess. The princess and the town are thus converted to Christianity and everyone lives happily ever after!


Anyway, somehow the entire point of the story being about the princess and the town converting got glossed over, and the giving of the rose was sort of reinterpreted as a romantic gesture (though, one might note, St. Jordi didn’t actually marry her or anything). Thus, St. Jordi’s Day turned into “the day of lovers”, wherein men give roses–usually decorated with a sprig of wheat and/or the yellow and red stripes of the senyera, the Catalan flag–to their ladies.

By Jordi Payà Canals (CC BY SA 2.0). See, I told you they were all named Jordi.

(If you think that’s a stretch, you should read up on St. Valentine.)

But wait, there’s more!

April 23rd also happens to be the deathdate of two very important and famous writers: William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes. The first to make the connection between April 23rd and books were apparently Catalan vendors in the 1920’s, in honor of Cervantes, and because hey, all the ladies are getting roses because of St. Jordi and the dead dragon, don’t we gentlemen deserve a gift too? I like what you did there, Catalans. UNESCO apparently thought this was a pretty awesome idea too and decided to make April 23rd World Book Day in the 1990’s.

And that is how St. Jordi’s Day became Catalonia’s “love” holiday, which is celebrated by the exchange of roses and books among lovers and friends. And also by hanging Catalan flags everywhere and selling and eating food decorated with its red and yellow stripes. Because, any excuse.

See, here you've got your roses, your books, and your senyera--the Catalan flag. By Fransesc_2000 (CC BY SA 2.0)
See, here you’ve got your roses, your books, and your senyera.
By Fransesc_2000 (CC BY 2.0). Okay, fine, some of them are named Fransesc. Or Josep. Or whatever. 😛

(…Look, as far as sweet cultural traditions go, it sure beats caga-tió. 😛 )

(…Pun not intended. Ugh.)

Yom Atzma’ut Sameach, Feliç Diada de Sant Jordi, and Happy World Book Day!

…Just don’t start barbecuing books, or exchanging Israeli flags with your lover, or mixing up your blue-and-white/red-and-yellow icing on your cookies, or… yeah.

Yeah, um, no, guys. That would be the Venezuelan flag.
Yeah, um, no, guys. That would be the Venezuelan flag.

(If you read through this whole entry asking yourself, what the heck is this Catalan language, flag, and culture you’re talking about?! Here ya go.)

5 thoughts on “St. Jordi’s Day, as Explained by an American-Israeli Jew

    1. H ended up wearing a blue shirt with tan pants.

      …The blue shirt says Barça! Barça! Barça! in red and yellow. (It’s the one Josep gave him last year.)

      I feel very culturally confused.

  1. Like! Yup we are all confused. I think we should give George to the Catalonians. They do so much more with him. In England no one even notices.

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