Happy Saint George’s day, dear reader!
And what a day! People in England will be wearing red roses on their lapels, flying the Cross of St George from every available flagpole and singing Jerusalem in Churches from Berwick Upon Tweed to Penzance.
But is that a true picture? How is St George’s day really celebrated in England, if at all? And if not, why not?
When I was a boy, which wasn’t that long ago, my little maid, England’s national day passed largely unobserved. No mention on the television news, nor in the press and not once did I ever exchange a, “Happy Saint George’s Day!” with a fellow Englishman.
Today, Royal Mail are issuing a set of stamps to celebrate England and Saint George. In Coventry, a re-enactment of the mythical slaying of the dragon is taking place. Tameside in Greater Manchester will look like a set for Doctor Who with the whole of Ashton town centre transformed into a mediaeval village. Visitors might wonder if they’ve been travelling in time.
So, the celebration of Saint George, bridegroom of Jesus, is gaining momentum, but by no means is it celebrated with the vigour, enthusiasm and sheer joy as other national patron Saints. Take Saint Patrick for example. The population of the entire planet is Irish on 17th March. People get drunk on Guinness (brewed in Dublin). Festivities in Dublin go on so long, it’s no longer a day but a festival, lasting almost a week. But it’s not just a day for revelry, there’s a serious edge, too, as demonstrated by Irish politicians who travel the world to promote and celebrate their country, their Saint and their Irishness. In England, Patrick is celebrated with much ardour, parades and festivals taking place all over the country. This year, one hundred and fifty thousand people turned out for Saint Patrick’s parade in Birmingham concluding nine days of festivities. But that’s as nothing. In comparison with the United States of America! Eight million people turn out to watch the Saint Patrick’s Day parade in New York City and the lights on top of the Empire State Building turn green – as does a river in Chicago!
Saint George's Day festivities in London are muted and won’t last beyond the night. Tony Blair will not be in Washington talking up England and Saint George. There will be no parade in New York City and the river in Chicago will not run red.
Perhaps the English should take a leaf out of Ashton’s book and go back in time…
England, with her historical record, might be embarrassed in celebrating her national day with a soldier, often depicted in battle armour, plunging his sword into an animal, blood spewing abundantly. Add to this the scourge of the skinheads on the terraces waving the flag of St George, the BNP’s use of nationalistic symbols, St George's Cross standing for England's attempts to overrun other countries by force and the fact that the man might not have even existed and all the English might want to do is cringe.
Oppressed minorities, when given the freedom to do so, enjoy celebrating their identity and often, with gusto. The Scots need not feel any shame in being represented by Saint Andrew, friend of Christ himself, and a man not known for killing, but being killed – and by Romans nonetheless! Aligning himself with minorities early on, St Andrew reputedly drew a saltire in the sky over modern day Scotland. The Pictish King (either Óengus mac Fergusa or Óengus II) declared that Saint Andrew was watching over them and if they won their battle, he would make Andrew their patron Saint. They did, and he is.
Until 1348, Saint Edward The Confessor was England’s patron Saint, the country’s only canonised monarch. Perhaps it’s time to move away from England’s shameful past and bloodthirsty patron Saint and a return to Edward the Confessor, man of peace, man of God, known to be able to heal the sick by touch and to have performed other miracles.
English people have always felt pride in their Englishness and from 1707, felt pride in their Britishness. With nationalism in Scotland on the increase, England should no longer feel ashamed in celebrating her national day. They are not letting Britain down by celebrating their Englishness, to the contrary, they are proving that difference works. As with the European Union, a collection of very different people can come together and still retain their individuality.
Vivre le différence, England and Saint Edward the Confessor!
Incidentally, although the date remains factually unproven, it is believed that this is also the day on which William Shakespeare came kicking and screaming into the world. Sadly, it’s also the day on which he died. How English can you get, my bird? I don't mean dying on your birthday, I just mean having Shakespeare born on England's national day. Yesterday, on the eve of Saint George’s day, I alluded to The Bard in Fib Sunday. Check it out! Fib Sunday is not a day, nor a state of mind, but a way of life, my love.