Here’s one of those funny English traditions that make me go… hmm. I suspect it makes a lot of English people go hmm as well.
St George’s Day is the English (note that use of “English”–that would be not Welsh, not Scottish, not Northern Irish, and thus not British) celebration of its patron saint which, for a not very religious nation, is just, well, odd. Celebrated on the 23rd of April, it’s not a national holiday and it seems to me not many people know, or perhaps care, about the day. Let’s just say patriotism is not something the English do very well–and I can say that as an American, can’t I? When it comes to patriotic fervor, America wins the prize every time. England–definitely not.
St George’s Day dates back to the year 1222. (Slightly older than 1776 then.) The George of legend is a crusading knight who saved the Libyan town of Silene from a terrible dragon. Most importantly, he saved the king’s daughter from being sacrificed to the dragon. As he was a Christian knight on a holy Crusade, the people of the town abandoned their pagan beliefs and embraced Christianity in part to thank him. George was born in Turkey, moved to Palestine, became a Roman soldier and somewhere along the line became a Christian. He protested the pagan Roman Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians, which eventually led to his being beheaded–and he never visited England.
Tales of his bravery eventually made their way to England, where George was adopted as patron saint and somehow became known as a special protector of the English. He is also patron saint of Scouting, which is what led me to spend a chilly Sunday afternoon in town watching my Cub Scout son march in a parade for St. George’s Day.
If you’re confused, fear not. Me too. We arrived at the designated meeting place prior to the parade on Sunday to the sound of bagpipes . . . as my husband remarked, “That’s the sound of ethnic confusion,” bagpipes being a Scottish instrument and all. Whereas in America there would be flag waving and cheering and possibly popcorn, in England, it’s polite waving, a bit of saluting the mayor, and much puzzled head scratching as to quite what the whole point is. There are no picnics, no fireworks, no hamburgers on the grill (err, barbeque–I must remember to call it a barbeque here). In a country based on tradition, it’s a very confused, mostly overlooked, day.
But that’s what makes the English so . . . what they are. The English. Not giving a toss since 1222.