“Cry ‘God for Harry, England and St. George!” – Henry V, William Shakespeare
While not exactly a national holiday, St. George’s Day is England’s national day. St. George is the patron saint of England and the idea of the day is to celebrate … being English. However, to the English, this is a very difficult concept. The issue here is English men and women are rather understated, don’t like to make a fuss, wouldn’t dare make a spectacle of themselves in some over the top shindig, all that stuff we Americans love! The Irish have St. Patrick’s Day, the Scots have Burns’ Night (and St. Andrew’s Day if you’re being pedantic) and the Welsh have St. David’s Day. Flag waving is for football hooligans and flying the Union flag, oh dear, that’s just way too political. English patriotism is discreetly reserved for a handful of sporting events: the World Cup, the Six Nations rugby matches and The Ashes test cricket series.
Who was this man anyway? St. George was a young Turk who joined the Roman army and fought to defend Christianity in the 3rd century then beheaded for his beliefs under a pagan emperor. Richard the Lion Heart adopted St. George’s emblem of the red cross on a white background and brought it to England for his soldiers to wear on their tunics in battle. Then there is the Legend of St. George. The classic story of good conquers evil goes something like this: St. George was traveling in Libya where he heard about a town being terrorized by a dragon. A lovely princess, sacrificed for the town’s safety, was held captive. St. George rode into town, slew the beast then trotted off into the sunset with the fair maiden. In truth and in fiction, St. George is a symbol of bravery, chivalry and courage. Henry VIII, Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh all flew the Cross of St. George and it was even used by the Pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower to Plymouth (the one in America) as the flag of England.
London’s mayor Boris Johnson is urging locals to be proud and commemorate their English hertiage on April 23rd, the anniversary of the death of St. George, with city sponsored festivites in Trafalgar Square and the St. George’s Day Pageant. Borough and Leadenhall Markets are hosting theme-filled days of British produce and fine foods while Royal Albert Hall has patriotic music and a sing-a-long ( my English friends are cringing right now).
“Who’s St. George?”
“When is it?”
“NO!” – oops, she’s Irish
“Oh, I only knew it was St. George’s Day when I walked by a pub advertising it.”
I’d have to say, those who do choose to celebrate will probably do so in a pub with a pint and possibly some fish & chips. Sounds like reason enough to celebrate to me.
(Photos courtesy of Gary Knight, James Bowe, highwaylass and foxypar4)