Imagine you have woken up in Barcelona for the first time in your life. You walk outside and you notice something unusual. There are stands in every corner where people are buying and selling roses. You walk down some streets and see that some stands are also selling books.

“What is going on?” you wonder. Why all these books and roses? Shops are open, people are hurrying about to work or to school. It’s business as usual for everyone but it feels like a holiday. There’s an undefinable feeling of goodwill and friendship everywhere. Then it hits you. It’s 23rd April, Sant Jordi’s Day.

 

Who is Sant Jordi?

Sant Jordi | Sant Jordi - Dragons, books and roses | Oxford House Barcelona

Once upon a time, the village of Montblanc in Tarragona was terrorized by a fierce dragon who demanded animals in exchange for not eating human beings. The villagers valued their lives and were happy to do what the dragon wanted.

Until one day there were no more animals left.

They decided to enter everyone’s names —including the names of the king and the princess— in a draw. Every day a name was chosen and that person was sacrificed to the dragon. Slowly, the population of the village began to decrease.

One day the princess’s name was drawn. Moments later, when she was standing outside the dragon’s cave trembling in fear, a knight in shining armour appeared out of the blue and killed the dragon before it could eat the princess. Blood poured out of the dragon’s chest, falling onto the ground. A huge rosebush grew out of the dragon’s blood with roses the colour of fire. The knight plucked a rose and offered it to the princess he had just saved.

The knight was Sant Jordi (or St. George as he’s known in England), and this is how the day of Catalonia’s patron saint became Catalonia’s very own Valentine’s Day.

 

That explains the roses. What about the books?

Coincidentally, 23rd April is the date when William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes, two of the world’s greatest authors, died in 1616. In 1995 UNESCO chose this date to celebrate the first International Book Day, a day to promote reading and publishing.

In Catalonia, books mingle with Sant Jordi’s roses. Traditionally men buy roses for their wives; women buy books for their husbands. Times have changed though. Today men will buy roses for their partners as well as for their mothers, daughters, and female friends. Women will also buy roses for their loved ones, and many will receive books as well. The Diada de Sant Jordi has become a day to celebrate love, friendship and culture.

Barcelona | Sant Jordi - Dragons, books and roses | Oxford House Barcelona

How can I celebrate?

On this special day, Barcelona’s busiest streets set up stalls where you can find all sorts of books. There are many book-signings as well. Rambla de Catalunya, Passeig de Gràcia, Plaza Catalunya and Las Ramblas are a must.

Several museums and buildings of historical and cultural significance open their doors free of charge. Here are some you can visit:

  • Palau Güell
  • Ajuntament de Barcelona
  • Palacio de la Generalitat
  • Biblioteca Nacional de Catalunya

 

You can watch sardanes, traditional Catalan dancing, in Plaza Sant Jaume in the evening.

And, if comic books and strategy games are your thing, visit Passeig Sant Joan (near the Arc de Triomf), where there will be book stalls and workshops all day long.

 

Travelling with your feet up

There is nothing like a book to go on an adventure. You may be lying down on your favourite sofa or sunbathing on the beach, but you’re really miles away, experiencing other lives and other ways of seeing the world. A good book will help you expand your vocabulary and discover the cultural and social aspects that come with a language.

 

Here are some tips to improve your language skills through reading:

  • Is there a book you love and maybe even know by heart? Find a copy in the language you’re learning. Reading a story you already know will allow you to learn key words quickly and enjoy yourself at the same time. You’ll also learn idiomatic expressions and new structures, and you will always understand the context.
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  • Ever tried reading graphic novels? Graphic novels—also known as comic books—are a wonderful way of learning. Whether you enjoy superheroes, crime noir or science fiction, there will be a graphic novel out there just for you. From Alan Moore’s Watchmen to Marvel’s Batman, from the horrifying realism of Pulitzer Prize winner Maus to the fantasy world of The Sandman, comics are a fun way to explore colloquial language in use.
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  • Do you prefer novels? Find three new words to learn in each chapter you read. Focus on learning those new words. Write example sentences to help you remember them; think of situations that you or someone you know has experienced where you can apply your new vocabulary. Make sure you use your new words in speaking or writing activities.

 

No matter if this is your first Sant Jordi or if you’ve been giving roses to your loved ones since you were a child, everybody agrees that this is a special day. Have you decided how you’re going to spend it? Are you looking forward to reading any good books? Let us know in the comments below!

Glossary for Language Learners

 

Find the following words in the article and then write down any new ones you didn’t know.

Wonder (v): to ask yourself.

Business as usual (exp): this is used to say people’s routine hasn’t changed even when something unusual is happening.

Goodwill (exp): friendly, helpful and/or cooperative feelings.

It hits you (exp): used when you realize something suddenly.

Run out of (pv): to finish something and have no more left.

A draw (n): the random selection of names, for example in a competition.

Out of the blue (exp): suddenly and unexpectedly.

Mingle (v): mix with others.

A must (exp): something that is so important you cannot miss it, for example when visiting a new city.

Be your thing (exp): when something is your “thing”, it means you enjoy doing that
to know by heart: to have something memorized very well.

Key

v = verb

exp = expression

n = noun

pv = phrasal verb

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