Penpalling & Letters

Monday, 23 April 2012

"Diada de Sant Jordi", the celebration of the Book Day in Catalonia, Spain

The particular Saint Valentine's Day in Catalonia (northeastern Spain) is called "Diada de Sant Jordi". It is celebrated on April, 23rd day of Saint George (Sant Jordi), patron saint of Catalonia, under a festive environment. Book and rose street markets can be found along the streets and squares of all cities and villages. Lots of people will be walking around, looking at the books and buying roses. The tradition says that the man should gift his loved one a rose, whereas the woman should gift her sweetheart a book. The festival is a mix of traditions and customs going back to the Middle Ages. On Sant Jordi it is also celebrated the "Day of the Book". In Catalan it is said:

"El 23 d'abril, -"On April, 23rd,-
Sant Jordi, -Saint George,-
una rosa i un llibre. -a rose and a book.-
Una rosa com a símbol d'amor -A rose as a symbol of love-
i un llibre com a símbol de cultura." -and a book as a symbol of culture."-

Even if it is not known the exactly time when roses started to be gifted on Sant Jordi's Day, the origin of the tradition started in Barcelona in the XV century. Women belonging to the nobility were attending a mass in the Palau de la Generalitat Chapel (dedicated to the saint) on that day. They were receiving a rose as a gift. In the same square where Palau de la Generalitat is located, the "Fira de Roses" (Roses Festival) was celebrated at the same time, an old festival where men were gifting roses to their loved ones as a proof of love. Perhaps the origins of this Roses Festival comes from Roman times, when floral offerings to goddess Flora were taking place in the month of May. The typical Sant Jordi rose is a red rose which is gifted together with a wheat spike and adorned with the colours of the Catalan flag (gold and red). The "Senyera" (Catalan flag) is the symbol of the land protected by Sant Jordi, that is, Catalonia, the red colour of the rose is a symbol of passion while the wheat spike represents fertility.

Such an event had to come together with its own legend. The legend of Sant Jordi explains the origin of the roses in the festival:

"The Catalan tradition tells that once there was a fearsome dragon in the lands of Montblanc (Tarragona) which terrorized the people living there. The dragon was always very hungry and it was approaching more and more to the walls of the city. People were so afraid of it that they tried to look for a solution so it would stay away from the city. At first they feeded the dragon with sheep, then oxes, later horses... but it was never enough and the dragon was always asking for more food. It arrived a time when they had to feed it with the own people of the village, otherwise the dragon would kill them all at once. They wrote all the names of all the inhabitants in pieces of paper and put them inside a pot. Every night, an innocent hand would choose who would be the next one to die in the claws of the dragon the next morning. One day it was the turn of the princess. Some people say that the king begged and cried, others say that he accepted with determination and courage the destine of his daughter: the princess would be the next one to be sacrified. When the princess was sent out of the walls of the city and started to walk towards the dragon, a knight riding his white horse appeared in the mist. The knight fought against the dragon and finally killed it. Some people said that the dragon was melt and absorbed by the land. Others said that a pool of blood formed where the dragon had fallen dead. Whatever happened, a rosebush grew up instantly from the dragon's blood giving brilliant red roses. The knight who killed the dragon was Jordi/George, who gifted the princess one of the beautiful red roses."

If you are interested in reading more articles featuring characteristics of our homelands don't forget to check: Travelling around the World sharing Cultural Heritage, Folklore and Background.

I am always looking for people who would like to take part in this section of the Blog: Travelling around the World. If you would like to write about any aspects of your homeland don't hesitate to contact me at: penpallingandletters[at]gmail[dot]com and we will work on it!

Monday, 2 April 2012

Letters... obsolete?

At present, a letter-exbition is taking place at the Spanish National Library. It was on the news a few days ago and below, you can see a video about it and a translation to English. Sadly, in the report, they refer to letters as obsolete, museum objects nowadays, and to mailboxes as those objects in danger or extinction. Do you agree about it? Do you think it is so "weird" to write handwritten letters at present times?

"Handwritten Letters Exhibition at the Spanish National Library"

Journalist (male voice):
"Dear viewers,

Today we are talking about letters, and this is why we are going to the National Library. Here we have confirmed what everybody suspects: letters are a "museum object". Writing letters is as old as the Humanity. The epistolary genre gains great importance when distance is insurmountable, physically and technologically speaking. As they have explained to us, letters are just a conversation between absent people in the end."

Gema Hernández (Spanish National Library):
"To write a letter, a situation where distance or absence exist is necessary. We are speaking about wars, emigration movements, convents and monasteries, prisons..."

Journalist (male voice):
"Right now, letters are 140 characters long. They still are a conversation between absent people. The novelty is that in many occasions those people are not only "absent" but they don't know each other. We don't know what would "Quevedo, Santa Teresa, Azorín or Valle-Inclán" -Spanish writers and poets-, present in this exhibition, say about the e-mail, "washap", Twitter and so on...
You should know, too, dear viewers, that in the streets we still can find these objects, on the verge of extinction."

Girl 1:
"And yes! To open the letterbox and find a letter from a or from someone who thinks about you is very exciting."

Girl 2:
"I hadn't written a letter for the last five years."

Man 1:
"I was a sailor and was writing to my girlfriend every day." (laughs)

Journalist (male voice):
"Love letters?"

Man 1:
"Yes, love letters. My love..."

Journalist (male voice):
"And this is the end. I hope we see each other soon!
Carlos del Amor (the journalist)

And now, we put it in the mailbox. With some luck the letter will arrive tomorrow..."