Posted on: 23-04-2017 in UK
St George’s Day is England’s national day celebrated on April 23rd every year.
In the UK, the focus for St George’s Day celebrations (if anywhere) is the pub. Most Brits might say that they are proud of St George, but generally Brits do not use the national day as the focus for special events/holidays – as many Americans do with St Patrick’s Day for example.
St George was a Christian martyr who died over 1700 years ago. He was a soldier in the Roman Empire with a father from Cappadocia (now part of Turkey) and a Greek mother based in Syria-Palestine. St George was tortured and beheaded by Emperor Diocletian as part of the “Diocletian Persecution” of professional soldiers in 303AD. Legend has it that St George’s stoicism to the end inspired Empress Alexandra, the Emperor’s wife, to take up Christianity. She too was executed for her beliefs.
From his death at the beginning of the fourth century, worship of St George spread from the Middle East through Europe. And in 1222 the Synod of Oxford declared St George’s Day a feast day. King Edward III of England placed his historic Order of the Garter under the protection of St George in 1348. Ironically, it is the fact that St. George was not of English provenance that massively boosted his popularity in England. That’s because (with St George hailing from the Mediterranean) no single community in England could lay claim to have the shrine of his birthplace – so shrines popped up everywhere across England, all with a legitimate claim to being St George’s true place of worship. The result was a widespread support for the cult of St George.
The story of St George has got mixed up over time with all sorts of other stories. And one element that started to show up in the mix in the 1100s is the legend of St George and the Dragon. This legend is, in turn, often told in different ways. But it boils down to a town being terrorised by a dragon and being forced eventually to offer to the dragon a princess as a sacrificial offering; St George rides in out of the blue, slays the dragon and rescues the princess.
The St George Cross is a red rectangular cross on a white background. Edward III was the first English monarch to use the St George’s Cross as the Royal Standard. Now the St George’s Cross is the basis for the Union Jack flag of Great Britain.
St George’s Day often pops up in the UK news, often for one of three reasons:
Campaigners argue that it’s not fair that England don’t get a day off work for the English national day but the Scottish and Irish do.
As well as football hooligans, the St George’s Flag is associated with extremist national organisations like the English Defence League. This has lead to what has been called a “toxification” of the St George’s Flag. English people do not view the national flag with the unadulterated pride with which other nations view their own flags.
In 2014 Labour MP Emily Thornberry was forced to publicly apologise for appearing, in a tweet, to mock a UK working-class home featuring St George’s flags.