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Exploring Tradition: World Book Day in Catalonia and around the world

If you’re walking around Catalonia on 23 April, you might get quite confused when you see lovers exchanging books and roses at the sound of live street music. You might check the calendar to make sure Valentine’s Day has passed and you haven’t travelled back in time. In fact, Lovers’ Day is celebrated on the same day as World Book Day in this region of Spain, and this is one of the most important dates on the calendar of many Catalonians, joining the celebration of their culture, of love, and of literature. The gift exchange is a beautiful tradition which happens on the day of Sant Jordi (St George) on the anniversary of Shakespeare’s and Miguel de Cervantes’s death, but what is even more fascinating is that the exchange originates from the medieval legend of Sant Jordi.

Sant Jordi was a mysterious knight who saved the princess of Montblanc from sacrificing herself to the dragon that haunted the city. After killing the dragon, he gave the princess a red rose which stemmed from the dragon’s blood that had spilt on the ground. Since then, it is an indispensable tradition to give your significant other a rose on the day. However, Catalonians recognise that this story of the damsel in distress is outdated, and nowadays this celebration is used to spread their love of literature by retelling the story and making the princess, or even the dragon, the real hero.

Workshops and conferences are held all over the world, and renowned writers are invited to share their passion for the art that is literature, and for the art that is reading

While las ramblas, the avenues typical of Barcelona and other cities in Catalonia, fill with crowds buying books and roses, what is going on in the rest of the world? Some countries hold exciting International Book Fairs to promote the importance of literature and national writers, such as France’s Festival du Livre de Paris or Hungary’s International Book Festival in Budapest, where guest countries make an appearance to celebrate different cultures such as India in France or Spain in Hungary.  Other countries like the UK or Sweden have moved the date and celebrate their love of storytelling on different days, such as the Swedish version, on 13 April, to avoid the clash with Easter celebrations, or the British version in March which is organised as a charity event.

Workshops and conferences are held all over the world, and renowned writers are invited to share their passion for the art that is literature, and for the art that is reading. In Kensington, Maryland, an annual Day of the Book Festival is celebrated on the Sunday closest to 23 April, where poetry readings can be heard alongside artist displays, and where storytelling sessions are organised for children with a lot of love and a bit of magic. One of my favourite celebrations has to be Athens’s, which was named World Book Capital by UNESCO in 2018, and which during that year held more than 250 events with the aim of making books accessible to everyone, no matter their social or economic background.

Books are doors to other worlds, as they allow us to live different lives at once, but also to expand our horizons, to relax, and to share our knowledge to make the world a better place

World Book Day is immensely significant. It reminds us to take a moment every year to promote the importance of reading, especially to children and to people around the world who do not find books as readily available as we might do in The Warwick Library. It was established by UNESCO in 1995 to spread awareness of the infinite number of benefits that come with cultivating a love for storytelling and for literature, no matter your age and no matter the genre you are interested in. For example, another wonderful Spanish event during this time is the give-away of the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, which encourages Spanish-language writers all over the world to continue their work and their contributions to our global culture.

Books are doors to other worlds, as they allow us to live different lives at once, but also to expand our horizons, to relax, and to share our knowledge to make the world a better place. My personal tradition to celebrate this wonderful day is to spend an evening getting lost between the shelves of all sorts of bookshops – big, small, independent, antique, or alternative –, especially the foreign languages section. There’s nothing more refreshing than looking at all the possibilities literature has to offer (and inevitably making your TBR list even longer!).

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