The Spanish believe World Book Day marks the deaths of two of the world’s greatest writers – Cervantes and Shakespeare – on April 23rd, 1616, but that’s not strictly true. The connection between April 23rd and books was first made in 1923 by booksellers in Catalonia, Spain, as a way to honour Cervantes. This became a part of the celebrations of Saint George’s Day (also April 23rd) in the region, where it has been traditional since the medieval era for men to give roses to their lovers and since 1925 for the woman to give a book in exchange. Half the yearly sales of books in Catalonia, some 400,000, take place around this time and over four million roses are exchanged. In 1995, UNESCO decided that the World Book and Copyright Day would be celebrated on this date because of the Catalonian festival and because the date is also the anniversary of the birth and death of William Shakespeare, the death of Inca Garcilaso de la Vega and Josep Pla, the birth of Maurice Druon, Vladimir Nabokov, Manuel Mejía Vallejo and Halldór Laxness. However, Cervantes died on April 23rd according the Gregorian calendar; but at that time England still used the Julian calendar. So in fact Shakespeare died ten days after Cervantes, because of the discrepancy between the two date systems. The apparent correspondence of the two dates was a fortunate coincidence for UNESCO, and thanks to World Book Day, everyone believes the two men died on the same day. Whatever the truth may be, King Juan Carlos will continue presenting the Miguel de Cervantes Literary Prize to the winning author on April 23rd in a ceremony held at the University of Alcalá de Henares, the town where Cervantes was born, and the traditional two-day “readathon” of Don Quixote will continue to take place.


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