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Celebrating St George’s Day

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Photo Laureen Katiyo

Regular contributor Laureen Katiyo kindly sent some photographs of the celebrations from the Feast of St George event which took place in Trafalgar Square last weekend. Like most people, I tend to be quite ambivalent to the celebration of the patron saint of England but why is this?  In some ways we seem to be happier celebrating other countries festivals like St Patrick’s Day.

Photo Laureen Katiyo

To determine whether this is a more recent phenomenon, I decided to look back into the past through newspaper reports and found this apathy to St George’s Day has a long history.

In 1839, the following writer tries to build up the day.

 A man may be, in the fullest sense of the word a ‘citizen of the world,’ and still preserve that veneration for the important festivals of his native soil — of which, indeed, every Englishman should be proud, and with which must necessarily be associated many early and joyous reminiscences. We fervently hope that whatever dimness may this year have been cast upon the lustre of St George, will be dispelled by the halo which shall arise from the celebration of the 23d April, 1839.

Even the Victorians were neglectful as this report from 1885 describes.

It is a matter of known fact that of late years St. George’s day bas been neglected through the complete insouciance of the Englishmen. While the Scottish and Irish have stood forward and insisted on their Patron Saint’s Days being annually honoured the name of St. George has not been often heard.

A report from 1928 turns this apathy into a virtue, it is all because of our natural modesty.

An Englishman considers it is bad form to boast about his work, about this country, or about its achievements. Even on St. George’s Day, the festival of the nation’s patron saint, and the birthday of Shakespeare, the world’s greatest poet, the English people are very subdued, as a rule, in their celebrations.

Another problem is St George himself, he seems to have a mysterious past which had no obvious links with England, it is generally accepted that St. George was a soldier who was tortured and killed for his Christian faith in around AD 303. After this stories about his strength and courage soon spread throughout Europe. The best-known story about St. George is his fight with a dragon, it was believed that it was the 12th century Crusaders however who first invoked his name in battle.

Photo Laureen Katiyo

King Edward III made him the Patron Saint of England when he formed the Order of the Garter in 1350, and the cult of the Saint was increased by King Henry V, at the battle of Agincourt. Shakespeare famously included the rallying call by King Henry V with the famous phrase, ‘Cry God for Harry, England and St George’.

Perhaps one of the major issues is the tendency for English people to consider themselves as British first then English. It has been very common to many people in the past for people to say that they are British rather than English because they are part of Great Britain or United Kingdom.

Photo Laureen Katiyo

So why the renewed interest in St George and Englishness? Ironically it is possibly the greater independence of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in recent times that has led England to reconsider its role and English people to find their own identity. The various events on St George’s Day is part of this movement, whether these events can overturn centuries of apathy is a different question.

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