Why is April 23 World Book Day?

April 23 is World Book Day, as declared by UNESCO in 1995.

Traditionally it is said that two great writers of all time Miguel Cervantes Saavedra and William Shakespeare, died on the same day of the same year, April 23, 1616.

In fact, on UNESCO‘s own website you can read “this symbolic date of world literature coincides with that of the disappearance of the writers William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega”, and that for this reason declared this day as World Book and Copyright Day.

Sant Jordi Barcelona world book day

But, is it true that Cervantes and Shakespeare died on the same day?

Well, this statement is not correct. The only one of the 3 writers who actually died on April 23, 1616, was the Peruvian writer Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (attention, do not confuse him with the Spanish writer Garcilaso de la Vega born half a century earlier).

Origin of the confusion: Julian and Gregorian calendars

The confusion of dates is given by the fact that, in those times, in the United Kingdom they continued using the Julian calendar and in Spain, the Gregorian calendar had already been adopted.

Clarify that the Gregorian calendar is the one used today in practically all countries and was promulgated in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII, from which the name comes. Previously and since, no less, the year 46 BC, the Julian calendar,  introduced in the time of Julius Caesar, was used.

Basically, there is a difference of 10 days between the two calendars.

When did they exactly pass away?

Shakespeare passed away on April 23, 1616, according to the Julian calendar, which corresponds to May 3 on the Gregorian calendar (10 days later)

To make things more complicated, it has been shown that Miguel de Cervantes did not even die on April 23 but a day before: on April 22.

April 23 in reality was his funeral, a day after his death, and this is the date that was recorded and that for centuries it has been considered, erroneously, the official date of his death.

Portrait William_Shakespeare Día internacional del Libro
Miguel Cervantes Día Internacional del Libro

When did Cervantes and Shakespeare die?

Thus, based on the Gregorian calendar, Miguel de Cervantes passed away on April 22 and William Shakespeare on May 3, 1616, that is to say that Shakespeare died 11 days later than Cervantes. Cervantes was 68 years old and Shakespeare only 52.

Having cleared up all this mess of dates, it should be noted that the great Catalan writer Josep Pla also died on April 23! But from 1981!

The origins of the Book Day in Spain

The Day of the Book was already celebrated in Spain and Catalonia on April 23, before UNESCO declared it International Book Day in 1995.

In fact, in Spain, Book Day began to be celebrated since 1926 every October 7 .

The Day of the Book was used to sell books that booksellers had not sold the rest of the year, offering a discount.

Why October 7?

Because it was the date that Miguel de Cervantes was believed to have been born. Well, it was actually the date of his christening, which was the only date available. There is no official date of his birth.

We are back to a mess of dates! If you look in Wikipedia or any biography about Cervantes you will see that they indicate that he was born on September 29, 1547 (although in some places they keep October 7, the day of baptism as the date of birth)

But it is an assumed date, since it is not recorded anywhere. It is believed that it could have been September 29 because it was the feast of San Miguel. Let us remember the ancient religious tradition of giving the newborn the name of the Santoral, that is, of the saint of the day.

Spring versus Fall

Returning to the theme of the book day on October 7. It was considered more appropriate to celebrate this day in a more pleasant season for walking and browsing the books in the open-air booksellers. Spring was much better than fall. So in 1930 King Alfonso XIII approved the change of celebration from Book Day to April 23, the supposed date of the death of Cervantes (We have already clarified before that he actually died on April 22).

In 1930, the day of the book was celebrated for the first time on April 23, which in Catalonia meant celebrating the Sant Jordi festival and the Book festival on the same day.

Rambla de Barcelona 23 abril Sant Jordi
books stalls Ramblas Barcelona April 23

The Day of the Book and Sant Jordi

Until that moment in Catalonia the feast of Sant Jordi, the patron saint of Catalonia was celebrated by giving just roses. Starting in 1930, the tradition of giving roses plus books was adopted. A precious tradition that lasts over time. Visiting any town or village of Catalonia on April 23 is a wonderful experience and a great chance to meet writers, buy books, roses, walk through the streets with music, concerts.

On Sant Jordi’s day in Barcelona, ​​all neighborhoods have their bookstalls, but the most emblematic area and where the most renowned writers sign their books are the squares of the Barri Gotic or Gothic Quarter and La Rambla.


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