April 23, 2020 / 10:12 AM / a month ago

Locked down Catalans mark St. George's Day with roses on balconies

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Stuck at home due to the coronavirus lockdown, inhabitants of Spain’s Catalonia region kept up St. George’s Day traditions on Thursday with roses on balconies and book-sharing online.

Hospital workers carry roses at the Hospital Clinic on Saint George's Day (Sant Jordi), as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Barcelona, Spain, April 23, 2020. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

The legendary dragon-slayer is the proud northeastern region’s patron saint - known as “Sant Jordi” in the local language - as well as England’s.

Catalans generally crowd the streets with loved ones, exchanging books and roses in representation of the flower that came from the dragon’s spilt blood.

But due to the COVID-19 disease, streets including Barcelona’s famous La Rambla boulevard were virtually deserted.

“It looks like there had been an atomic explosion,” Rafel Dalmau told Catalan public channel TV3 from La Rambla, where flower shops were closed and very few people were out.

“It’s so strange”.

Not to be deterred, however, some Catalans had flowers delivered via online purchases and placed them on their balconies, together with drawings of roses and other aspects of the legend. Regional flags abounded too.

Giant paper mache roses hung alongside sheets displaying stories and anecdotes in Barcelona’s Gracia neighbourhood, while children waved down at the occasional passers by.

Some writers, who usually sign their works in the streets, held virtual chats while book shops took orders online.

Activity, though, was nothing compared to a normal Sant Jordi day.

“When I think of Sant Jordi, I think about the emotion and joy it has given me and that is why it hurts me so much to be in my house,” instead of signing books on the streets, writer Almudena Grandes told TV3.

The region’s flower vendors, who ususally sell around 2 million roses during the day, saw demand fall to just 10% of that, said Joan Guillen, head of the Catalan florists guild.

Still, he said an initiative that saw more than 200 florists deliver roses to homes was a success given the circumstances.

Catalans will have a second chance to enjoy St. George’s Day, probably with less restrictions, as book and flower businesses plan to hold a postponed celebration on July 23.

On Wednesday evening, white roses were handed to health staff at Barcelona Hospital Clinic, one of the city’s largest hospitals dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed over 22,000 people in Spain.

That is the third worst death toll in the world, and Spain has imposed one of the toughest shutdowns.

Reporting by Joan Faus and Luis Felipe Castilleja; Writing by Joan Faus and Nathan Allen; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Alexandra Hudson

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