The Welsh have St David’s Day, the Scots have St Andrew’s Day and we all join in to help the Irish celebrate St Patrick’s Day. These national days are a source of pride and celebration for their countrymen and women, but how many of us know England’s national day is?
You’re almost certain to have heard of St George and his famous battle with a dragon, yet most people in England know any more about their patron saint than that, let alone know when we are supposed to celebrate his day.
The legend of St George may be linked to an actual Christian soldier during the time of the Roman Empire, but in the famous story he defeated a fierce dragon which was holding a beautiful princess as a hostage. Slaying the dragon and freeing the princess became a symbol of selfless love and courage and the English adopted St George with great enthusiasm for many centuries.
In 1348 St George was decreed to be England’s patron saint and about 60 years later his associated day became a national holiday and opportunity for celebrations and feasting.
The traditional day for the feast of St George is on 23rd April, which is coincidentally also the date for Shakespeare’s birth and death, making it of even greater national significance. The whole country used to celebrate by wearing a red rose, displaying the flag of St George and singing the hymn Jerusalem. Sadly, national enthusiasm seemed to wane in the 18th century and the date is no longer considered to be a national holiday.
However, it looks as though the tide is beginning to turn. With surveys showing that more English nationals can name the date of the USA’s Independence Day and even St Patrick’s Day than that of our own patron saint, there are active steps afoot to restore our national day of pride and celebration.
Activities are taking place up and down the country to bring people together in recognition of our shared heritage, and nowhere more so than London. Trafalgar Square is playing host to an action-packed afternoon of activities on Bank Holiday Monday to kick-start the celebrations, with events including musicians, a farmers market and tons of activities for children and grown ups.
The Mayor of London hosts an annual feast to celebrate St George’s Day and this is to be held in Trafalgar Square with banqueting tables set out for up to 250 guests. Boris Johnson, the capital’s Mayor hopes that the day will serve to remind visitors of England’s rich heritage and diverse cuisine and welcomes the opportunity to celebrate everything British.
Wrest Park in Bedfordshire is reputed to hold the biggest St George’s Day celebrations in the country and they certainly take their festivities seriously. With falconry displays, medieval jousting tournaments and jesters to entertain the crowds, the action culminates in a dramatic staged battle with a dragon!
They’ll be fighting dragons in Derbyshire too, with English Heritage properties attracting visitors with themed events and displays to promote their sites. Once visitors have paid their entrance fees they will usually be treated to a number of themed activities and events designed to display the very best of British hospitality to visitors from far and wide.
We English are reluctant to blow our own trumpets, but there is a growing band of people keen to promote St George’s Day as the ideal opportunity to show the rest of the world just what makes us great. Farmers, artists, chefs and artisan workers are beginning to grasp the implications of fostering an enhanced sense of pride in England’s unique traditions.