The Invention of Tradition

CUP (2014 edition)

The Invention of Tradition was originally published on 29 April 1983, 40 years ago. The main thesis of this seminal anthology, edited by the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm and the post-colonial historian Terence Ranger, was that many of our most cherished traditions are actually relatively recent creations. The articles contained in the volume argue that traditions are not timeless or natural, but rather are created and shaped for specific purposes. For example, the book explores how the British monarchy was “reinvented” in the 19th and 20th centuries to serve a specific political and cultural agenda. The manipulation of tradition can be a powerful tool for maintaining social order and reinforcing or challenging existing power structures.

From a Marxist point of view, the manipulation of tradition to create a sense of identity is a reactionary phenomenon. Solidarity between capital and labour is an obstacle to social progress, according to this view. One of the most celebrated examples of identity reinforcement in the book is the case of Scottish clan tartans. Commercially available, distinctive clan tartans, it is claimed, were largely a 19th century marketing initiative combining elements of romanticism and nationalism. (The costume designers of Braveheart got this wrong!)

The celebration of Sant Jordi through the exchange of gifts, books for men and roses for women (or otherwise), is a good example of how traditions are created and shaped to serve certain goals. A gift of roses was a Sant Jordi tradition in the centre of Barcelona as early as the 15th century. This local custom was extended to the rest of Catalonia under the auspices of the Mancomunitat (1914), the first contemporary institution bringing together the four provinces of Catalonia, in order to reinforce a sense of shared Catalan identity.1

Sant Jordi book giving is a more recent innovation. It was the brainchild of the Barcelona-based writer and publisher Vicente Clavel Andrés, whose idea was to promote reading, the publishing sector and awareness of Spanish writers in general. The idea was taken up by the Spanish government, under the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, and the first official Spanish Book Day was celebrated on 7 October 1926, marking the anniversary of the death of Cervantes. The date was later changed to 23 April and thus the book and rose tradition came into being in Catalonia. The overlay of a Spanish celebration on the same day as an existing Catalan tradition is viewed with suspicion in some quarters, but in point of fact the initiative has gone well beyond the Iberian peninsula: in 1995 UNESCO inaugurated World Book Day and more recently 23 April was declared UN Spanish Language Day.

Whatever the case, whether you believe that the various strands of Sant Jordi sentiment can co-exist or are an interference, book buying for 23 April is a major cultural and publishing event nowadays. Many titles are brought out each year to coincide with this date. The week leading up to Sant Jordi is by far the most important sales period for publishers in Catalonia. Most Catalan schools suspend normal activity for various days leading up to Sant Jordi in order to prepare their participation in the festivities.

The Sant Jordi traditions remain as popular as ever in Catalonia, and each year sees new trends. Recently pro-independence groups have favoured yellow roses, for example. How sustainable is the rose growing sector? According to the Barcelona City Council, only 15% of Sant Jordi roses were grown locally in 2022.2 The rest came from as far afield as Colombia, Ecuador, Kenya and Ethiopia. Climate activists have proposed alternatives to the globalised rose trade. See the campaign #RosesSenseEspines.

Emerging technology may have an influence on Sant Jordi traditions. Do you still want to be given paper books? Or do you prefer ebooks? How can an ebook become an attractive tangible gift?  There are various online options in this regard.3

In 2023 are you going to re-invent the Sant Jordi tradition? Whatever your preference, at Tradiling we wish all our readers an excellent Sant Jordi 2023.

And, by the way, This Sant Jordi Day, Don’t Forget to Name the Translator is the slogan of the APTIC translator visibility campaign to mark the occasion.


  1. See https://www.lavanguardia.com/cultura/20200723/482470891932/sant-jordi-historia-rosa-libro.html
  2. See https://ajuntament.barcelona.cat/lafabricadelsol/ca/content/origen-de-les-roses-de-sant-jordi
  3. See https://www.makeuseof.com/ways-to-give-an-ebook-as-a-gift/
Richard Samson
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About Richard Samson

I’m a teacher living in Osona, Spain. I'm into tennis, dogs, and chickens. I’m also interested in translation and Moodle (well, digital tools for teaching, in general).
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