St George’s Day

Today is the 23rd April. That date may have little or no significance to most people, and will pass just like any other Saturday, with little or no fuss. But in England at least, it should count for something different. It is our National Day, though you would be forgiven for not knowing that fact.

Unlike Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, England does little to celebrate its patron saint, or the day named after him. More fuss is made of the fact that it is Shakespeare’s birthday, and the TV companies are pulling out all the stops to celebrate the works of the Bard of Avon. Nothing wrong with that of course, but how about poor old Saint George, and England as a separate nation?

If you were in Ireland (or almost anywhere else) on the 17th March, you could never be unaware that it is Saint Patrick’s Day. ‘The wearing of the green’, some crazy outfits, pubs and bars serving green beer, and many other celebrations, would all bring home the fact that Ireland’s saint’s Day is celebrated wherever the Irish have a connection.

On 1st March, if you were Welsh, you might well be wearing a leek, listening to the songs of Druids, or watching a male voice choir singing ‘Men of Harlech.’ One thing’s for sure, you would know that it was Saint David’s Day, and be proud of your Welsh heritage, and separate nationality within the UK. Later in the year, on the 30th of November, Scotland joins in, with Saint Andrew’s day. Scottish flags flying proudly, special meals, and kilts and bagpipes in evidence all over. And since 2006, it is a public holiday in Scotland too.

So what happened in England? Did we just stop caring, or has it all been forgotten? There are some parades, but they are small ones. Some buildings fly the red and white flag of Saint George, but most don’t bother. It is not a public holiday, and very few young people even know that it exists. There is a small website campaigning to get better recognition, but you would be hard pressed to find it mentioned in the mainstream media, let alone celebrated in style. In central London, Trafalgar Square hosts a gathering of Morris Dancers, and a promotion of English food, for the benefit of some bemused tourists to wonder what is going on. The Prime Minister has issued an official message from Downing Street, and a few people are wandering about dressed in the style of 12th century Crusaders.

But we are missing the opportunity to celebrate England as a country in its own right, long before the formation of the UK, or the current union with Scotland, and the six counties of Northern Ireland. I am not a nationalist by nature, but surely we owe it to future generations to make them aware of the culture and heritage of the country that makes up such a large part of the British Isles? Has this country become so diverse, or steeped in apathy, that such things no longer matter? I sincerely hope not.

Happy Saint George’s Day everyone, from good old England.

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43 thoughts on “St George’s Day

  1. Agree with those sentiments, Pete. My boys both marched with the cubs and scouts, despite the pouring rain. Nothing else seemed to happen though. We’ve become a nation of apologists but I’ve no idea why…..

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    1. It’s a shame to think that the far-right have made some people reluctant to celebrate a national day, and it has also become somehow embarrassing for others to even discuss it. I feel that the government should take the lead, and make it a public holiday. Then celebratory events could be held all over the country.
      Regards, Pete.

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  2. As a South African ex-Pat I find that English people don’t express their national pride in the kind of obvious way that would need to big celebrations of a national day… maybe because there are more sinister implications. I find that quite sad. Although South Africa has a dark past and a messy present there is a lot of patriotism and celebration of the things that bring us together and I wish there was more of that here.

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    1. That’s very true, Abbi. I believe that we have allowed the Far Right to hijack whatever national pride we still had, and the flag-waving and celebrations have become embarrassing, as a result.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  3. (Excerpt from Dracula, 1897) “Do you know what day it is?” I answered that it was the fourth of May. She shook her head as she said again: “Oh, yes! I know that, I know that! but do you know what day it is?” On my saying that I did not understand, she went on: “It is the eve of St. George’s Day. Do you not know that tonight, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway?”

    If you feel hot tonight in bed, could be a dragon by your head . .

    R

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  4. I remember the notion taught at school, the flag always flying on the church spire, but it a long time since I remember it been a celebration. Maybe the association with the BNP as it was back in the day went some way to tarring the image of the red cross? I seem to remember that he isn’t even English, and as for the dragon! I think he was running a little train in Wales when…..

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    1. He was undoubtedly Roman, Eddy, but that’s not the point. You got it, with the Far-Right hijacking the flag, and the ’cause’. Perhaps that’s why we feel uncomfortable about the association.
      Cheers, Pete.

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  5. Nice post, Pete. You’ve reminded me I have to spend the summer in Wales. Never been there. Close, but no cigar. As far as St. George is concerned–I’m too lazy today to look it up. Which house?

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    1. House? He was a Roman soldier, and we espoused his killing of ‘The Dragon’, too long ago to remember why. If you summer in Wales, choose Pembrokeshire. It’s the best place to get the sense of that country, and much friendlier to tourists than the north.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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          1. If I went in July for a fortnight–I think it would be bliss. I stayed in Dorset for 6 weeks and was madly in love. I know I would love Wales. Nine more years and I can retire. I plan on staying 2 weeks everywhere!

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  6. Maybe the Scots, Welsh and Irish celebrate their culture more strongly there because they don’t fully feel they have full nationhood so there is a passion there to define themselves where in the English there is an apathy. I’m only offering conversation as I really don’t have any expertise in the matter. I agree you with Pete that all four should celebrate their days and think on the past and culture that makes them distinct.

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      1. How would you celebrate the day? Food is a great start. When I worked at a university we’d have this day every semester where postgrads and staff had to cook a traditional dish from their country. It was a great way to socialise and celebrate what made us distinct but also acted as a metaphor for appreciating what we could all uniquely bring to the table. People love food.

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        1. Personally, I would go with history. Alfred The Great, Hereward The Wake, and much more. Before the Normans perhaps, maybe even before the Vikings. The food is neither here nor there to me, as it is too regional to be all-encompassing.
          Regards from England. Pete.

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  7. I think your point is facing an uphill climb this year, as today marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. At least England has a patron saint. The U.S. does not. Uncle Sam just won’t permit it. I do like the sound of Saint David, and am beginning to wonder about this silly dove that is always perching on my shoulder.

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    1. It’s true that you have no patron saint. (Not even a St David.)
      However, can you imagine anyone being unaware of the 4th of July in the USA?
      Thanks, David. Best wishes, Pete.

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