Today, and many of you could be forgiven for not noticing this, is St. George’s Day: our Patron Saint’s day; the one day of the year when we get the chance to celebrate our English individuality.
Now I’ve spent today looking for tell-tale signs of a festival atmosphere (flags, bunting, street parties, etc.) and judging by the sheer lack of it, I infer that we don’t seem very keen to embrace the aforementioned opportunity at all! I’ve seen one lorry bearing two cross of St. George flags, one mobility scooter proudly displaying just the one flag and quite honestly very little else. So what happened to that Great British patriotism that flourished so much during last year’s Olympics? Is it that we cherish being British more than we do being English or would we just rather sink a pint of Guinness with our Irish neighbours on 17th March and forget all about today?
In my youth, many people proudly wore red roses in their buttonholes on 23rd April (incidentally some also wore one on Trafalgar Day but that’s for another blog entry!) and many buildings flew the flag of St. George or the Union Jack. So why is it that we English seem to have largely given up on even the smallest gestures and seem so reluctant to match, even in a small way, the celebrations held by Ireland, Wales and Scotland?
I’ve often wondered why we adopted a Greek descended officer from the Roman Army born sometime around 280 AD who never came here as our patron saint in the first place although I’m fairly certain it is something to do with the Crusades. Saints Patrick and David have clear connections to Ireland and Wales respectively and St. Andrew’s relics were allegedly transferred to Scotland in the 10th Century. We are not alone in our patronage of St. George either: he is also apparently the patron saint of Georgia, Egypt, Bulgaria, Aragon, Catalonia, Romania, Ethiopia, Greece, India, Iraq, Israel, Lithuania, Portugal, Serbia, Ukraine and Russia. The story of St. George slaying a dragon is of course a legend but whatever the good Saint’s origins and good deeds, true or otherwise, I am reluctant to believe that the lack of enthusiasm for celebrating his saint’s day is anything really to do with it.
Of course if I were writing for the Daily Mail or Daily Express I would blame immigration: the home countries that mark their saint’s days more vigorously than us have a much greater indigenous population than England has ever had. I will admit that there has been a huge, possibly disproportionate, increase in the cultural diversity of the English population since I was a boy. I also accept that will undoubtedly have reduced the ratio of England’s inhabitants who are motivated to honour our traditions but quite frankly that is a lame excuse. Those of us born and bred here could, if we wanted to, push for today to be made a public holiday and put pressure on the relevant companies and organisations to plan and support celebratory activities. The sad fact of the matter is that we don’t.
Perhaps we feel we have too many public holidays? There are eight in each calendar year here in England and I would imagine that employers would not appreciate a ninth being introduced. However with two in May, couldn’t we ask the Government for one to be moved to 23rd April? We don’t do that either.
Whatever the reasons for our apparent apathy on the subject, I personally think it’s sad that we don’t take the time to celebrate the uniqueness of being English. I would love to see a greater celebration next year but I’m not holding my breath!