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.