April 23, World Book Day

As you may have in many advertisements in many places, April 23 is World Book Day. With all probability, there is a fair or a commemorative event being celebrated in your hometown with that occasion and, while you walk through the former or assist to the latter, you may wonder why precisely this is day celebrated when people read books every day.

For some, the answer to that question lies precisely in Spain: April 23 is known here as Sant Jordi (Saint George), which in Catalonia is celebrating by presenting people with a book – if you go to Barcelona that day you will see plenty of book stands in the streets.

William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega

William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega

For others, the answer originates in a striking, famous and ultimately incorrect coincidence. According to the legend, British playwright William Shakespeare, Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes and Peruvian historian Inca Garcilaso de la Vega died on the same day – on April 23, 1616. However, there is no such coincidence. Cervantes died on April 22 but was buried the next day. Shakespeare did indeed die on April 23, but England was at the time using the Julian calendar, which doesn’t correspond with the one used in Spain. So the author of “Hamlet” really died on May 3.

Funnily enough, there is a British writer and a Latin American novelist that died on April 23, although they are far less acclaimed that the aforementioned geniuses: Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850), Catalonian Josep Pla (1897-1981) and Venezuelan Teresa de la Parra (1889-1936). To this we must add that wordsmiths such as Frenchman Maurice Druon, Colombian Manuel Mejía Vallejo or Russian Vladimir Nabokov were born on such a day (the case of Nabokov has been argued as well as some people argue he was born on April 22).

William Wordsworth, Josep Pla & Teresa de la Parra

William Wordsworth, Josep Pla & Teresa de la Parra

However, it doesn’t matter if the tradition comes from Spain, coincidence or simply because there that day felt right. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) decided that, starting on 1996, every April 23 would be devoted to literature.

Cervantes is, in any case, particularly present on this day – the institutes that bear his name and that divulge Spanish culture all over the world celebrated on this day their open door day. As it happens, in commemoration of the writer’s death, April 23 is also Spanish Language Day.


So we have two reasons to be happy on this day of April. However, this 2011 some of the most important events – the now traditional reading of “El Quijote”, which goes on for two days, and the so-called “Noche de los libros” (“Night of Books”, where libraries and bookstores remain open until late at night) – will have to be postponed until April 27, since April 23 coincides with the Holy Week holidays.

As Don Quixote himself would say, “every cloud has a silver lining” (actually, John Milton said that. Don Quixote created a very popular Spanish expression that has the same meaning and reads, “No hay mal que por bien no venga”, roughly translated as “No evil is ever bereft from fortune”): We will have two back-to-back weeks devoted to Spanish culture.

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