If you’re an American who’s clueless about St. George’s Day, think: Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day or Helen Keller Day. You know—one of those "non-holiday holidays."
St. George, the patron saint of England (and numerous other countries around the world), was born in Turkey, became a Roman soldier, killed a dragon, saved a princess, and later got beheaded for refusing to denounce Christianity. Thus his status as "Christian martyr" and propensity for being snatched up as a patron saint.
The English used to celebrate St. George’s Day. In the 1500s through 1800s, the day was a big deal, but the Edwardians got bored with it. Nowadays in England, one will hear the occasional "Happy St. George’s Day!" while out and about. In pubs, the lads (if they’re aware of the day at all) may buy one another a round of ale and toast the day. BBC will dedicate some programming to it. Newspaper articles will talk about how few people celebrate the day. But beyond these things, not much else happens.
In recent years, England has experienced a growing movement to make St. George’s Day a public holiday. A recent poll—albeit with a small sampling of only 3,600 English adults—showed that 73% support the idea of a public holiday. (Some argue that people merely want another day off work.)
Despite these efforts to amp up St. George’s Day, the effort still sputters and stalls. One reason may be that extreme nationalism in England is not viewed by everyone as a good thing. Some feel that the English flag represents a far-right type of chauvinism and racism often associated with organizations such as the English Defense League and the British National Party and with football hooligans. (Akin to how some in the U.S. feel about the Confederate flag.) Yet others claim that the English, being Protestant for five centuries, pay little attention to saints, so ratcheting up St. George’s Day is a bit forced.
Those who do actually celebrate the day may do so by wearing a red rose in their lapel or wearing an article of clothing depicting the St. George’s Cross. Or they may fly the St. George’s Cross flag and/or serve traditional British food. Those hoping to make St. George’s Day a public holiday argue that it would be a perfect time to showcase English music, art, theater, and other such English creativeness.
We’ll have to wait and see if St. George’s Day ever gets loft, but meanwhile, I’d like to wish everyone a happy day--of the St. George variety or otherwise!