Category Archives: Quirkiness

St. George’s Day



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.

Groundhog Day

Groundhog_Day,_Punxsutawney,_2013-2I spend a lot of my time here attempting to explain (and understand) some of the quirks of British culture. However today I thought I’d devote my post to explaining one of those quirky American customs I grew up with in Pennsylvania Dutch Country: Groundhog Day.

When I first met my husband, perhaps after we’d moved from the UK to Ohio, we had a discussion about this odd American tradition. “You mean it’s real?” he asked. “It’s not just a movie?”

Oh yes, it’s real all right. And perfectly normal if you grew up where I did. The nearest prognosticating mammal to us was Punxsutawney Phil, who has been predicting the likelihood of six more weeks of winter, or an early spring, since about 1886. I don’t know how they managed the day back then, but these days there’s a swarm of media, spectators, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club (yes, really…and they wear top hats!), and Phil, of course, who is “gently encouraged” to come out of his burrow to make his prediction. In other words, he’s removed from his burrow, whether he wants to be or not.

And why, you may ask? Apparently, it’s an old Pennsylvania German custom from southeastern and central Pennsylvania with origins in ancient European weather lore, when a badger or sacred bear was meant to foretell the weather future. (Don’t worry, I am probably just as confused as you are.)


At 7:28 am every February 2nd, at a place called Gobblers Knob, Phil’s handlers pull him out of hibernation and Phil “speaks” to them in “Groundhogese” to let them know his prediction. If he sees his shadow, six more weeks of winter it will be. No shadow, an early spring. How he doesn’t get confused with all the lights from the TV camera crews around him I don’t know.

And in case you were wondering: Phil is wrong about 63% of the time.

PS: This morning he predicted six more weeks of winter. Huh. Considering spring is about six weeks away, who’s surprised?

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

No Trousers on the Tube Day

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

That would be today, right now, in fact, if you happen to be in London and near the Northern Line, drop your trousers and hop on.

I certainly won’t.

Sorry I didn’t give you advance warning, I only just found out about it a few minutes ago. I certainly couldn’t let it go unmentioned here. Organizers say, “The ride is arranged so trou-less travellers board the train at different stops, creating the illusion of a bizarre coincidence for unaware civilians.”

Ah, those Brits. So quirky.