April 23, 2010

The Day of the Rose and The Day of the Book – Catalonia

(El Dia de la Rosa o El Dia del Libro)

Catalonia is a part of Spain (actually, one of the “autonomous communities” of Spain) that runs from the Mediterranean Sea to the Pyrenees Mountains, borders on France, and includes the city of Barcelona.

From medieval times, this day has been associated with roses, and more recently with books. People in Catalonia buy roses and books for each other as a sign of love or respect, and an article in Wikipedia states that thousands of stalls selling roses plus “makeshift bookstalls” line the streets of Barcelona and other Catalan towns. Millions of roses and hundreds of thousands of books are sold on this day!

Why April 23?

This whole thing started as Saint George's Day. Saint George is the patron saint of England, Catalonia, and many other places; he was a Roman soldier and priest who lived a looong time ago and who supposedly slayed a dragon. Saint George is said to have died on April 23, 303 A.D. (or C.E.), so that is why his “feast day” is today. Red roses became associated with his feast day, probably because England's flower is the rose and because the cross associated with Saint George is a red cross on a white field.

(Note: Saint George probably had no connection to England!...But...King Richard the Lionhearted is said to have brought back the red-cross-on-white from the Crusades.)

Okay, I get the connection of April 23 and roses.
But...why books?

Well, two other people died on April 23—both in the year 1616:

William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes.

Hopefully you know that these two men were both authors. Shakespeare wrote plays and son
nets and narrative poems, with Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Macbeth some of his most famous writings. Cervantes wrote plays and poems, too, but he also wrote novels. Don Quixote is his most famous work.

Apparently, in 1923 a Catalan book seller was struck by the fact that both of these world-famous authors died on Saint George's Feast Day—and he decided to promote the idea of people buying books, instead of or in addition to roses, for their loved ones. His idea caught on, and now half of all book sales in Catalonia are made on this day!

So, Cervantes and Shakespeare died on the same day? Weird!

Wait! I didn't say that William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes died on the same da
y—I said that they both died on April 23, 1616!

They actually died 10 days apart. Do you know why both of these statements are true???

Oh, yes, the confusion of different calendars in the world! Cervantes died on April 23, 1616, according to the Gregorian calendar (used by most countries then, and by everybody now). Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616, according to the Julian calendar, still used then by Britain and its colonies. So really, Shakespeare died 10 days after Cervantes.

Shakespeare died on his birthday!?? Weird!

Many places list William Shakespeare's birthday as April 23, 1564, and everybody agrees his death-day as April 23, 1616.

So that means that he died on his birthday, right?

Again—wait a minute! In actual fact, there is no evidence for what day Shakespeare was born. We do have record of his baptism—and it was on April 26, 1616. So maybe he was really born three days before—or maybe a day or two after that, or a week before, or...?

An idea that spread...

The U.N. picked up on this regional holiday and has declared April 23 as World Book and Copyright Day.

Celebrate Saint George's Day, Day of the Rose, and Day of the Book!
  • Here is a cool St.George/dragon picture to print, redraw, or color.
Here is a simpler and easier coloring page. And here is a rose to color.
  • Make a red fun-foam rose. Learn how here and here.
  • Start a book club. Get your friends to agree on a book and a meeting time. Everyone reads the book before the meeting—and then you can discuss, debate, and pow-wow about the characters, the plot, the symbolism, and the theme of the book!
  • Read a book with a rose or a dragon or a George!
Some suggestions for little kids:
Robert the Rose Horse, by Joan Helibroner
The Knight and the Dragon, by Tomie dePaola
any book about Curious George, by Margret and H.A.Rey
Saint George and the Dragon, by Margaret Hodges

Some suggestions for older kids:
The English Roses, by Madonna (yes, that Madonna!)
Dealing with Dragons, by Patricia Wrede
, by Christopher Paolini

George's Cosmic Treasure Hunt, by Lucy and Stephen Hawking (yes, THAT Stephen Hawking! – and this book is dedicated to Rose! So it's a great choice for a day like today!)

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