Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’
Last Monday was the Feast Day of St George who is the patron saint of England. Ironically this day also saw the birth of the youngest member of our royal family and 5th in line to the throne.
How do we celebrate this day? Well actually we don’t!! It isn’t a public holiday and the day largely passes unnoticed especially when compared with the patron saints’ days of the rest of the UK. Scotland with St Andrew (November 30th) – St Andrew’s balls, festivities and Scotland’s National Day, Wales has St David (March 1st) – the wearing of daffodils, of traditional costume and lots of celebrations and music or Ireland – St Patrick’s (March 17th) – centred around the colour green, this day is celebrated with parades, parties and the wearing of shamrocks all across the world. In England (April 23rd) we’re more likely to celebrate Shakespeare’s birth and death (same day) than we are our patron saint.
One of the reasons for this is probably because he is almost a mythical character. He did exist and we do know something of his life – a Roman soldier beheaded because he was a Christian. But the character that we are all aware of growing up is one of a great knight who slayed a dragon to save a princess. It sounds more like a fairy tale than the behaviour of someone who is a figurehead for a nation.
Perhaps this is why he seems to have been relegated to the dustbin of history.
I don’t really know (and neither do others I have asked) why we are, as a nation, so underwhelmed by St George’s day. What we do know is that he was born in modern day Turkey, followed his father into the Roman army and was executed in Palestine. He seems to have been adopted as patron in the medieval times after returning crusaders claimed that he (or rather his ghost) led them into battle. The myth of the dragon slayer seems to have come from this same historical period but doesn’t have any foundation. The patron saints of Ireland, Scotland and Wales distinguish them as separate nations but perhaps in England we don’t feel the need to do this. Attempts are made to celebrate in a low-key way in many parts of the country (our community has a St George’s lunch) and calls are made now and again for a public holiday but they generally ring hollow and there is no very strong appetite for this.
The flag of St George (red cross on white background) has been hijacked in past years by far-right groups and possibly St George by association has been tarnished with the same brush.
This could also explain the reluctance of the English to acknowledge their saint.
It seems that we will continue to celebrate St George in a very subdued and fragmented way and that calls for a public holiday will always fall on deaf ears.
I found this quote:
“The Centre for Economic and Business Research reported in 2012 that each bank holiday costs Britain £2.4bn in lost work.”
Perhaps this explains it!!