Yes, today is the day to commemorate St George, patron saint of England. It’s not as widely regarded as St Patrick’s Day when the plastic Paddies pour green food colouring into their Guinness and dance to fiddle music while wearing shamrocks. Good for them; I’m all for celebrating your national day – even if you are a hanger-on because you think the Emerald Isle is romantic and everything Irish is fine.
England doesn’t get the same treatment abroad. In England the pubs may be festooned with the proud St George Cross and people may wear red roses (unless they’re from Yorkshire – everything has multiple associations) and jingle through a Morris dance or two, but the rest of the world stays strangely silent.
For some reason, it is not fashionable to take pride in your national identity if you are English, especially if you are living in New Zealand, where England is responsible for all the evils of the world if you believe the national press – and sadly, many Kiwis do.
Recently the St George’s Cross, which has been the flag of England for centuries, has been reclaimed by sports fans, especially those of football, cricket and rugby, and this has put other non-sports fans off. In a bizarre union, it is also flown from Anglican churches. On the Sunday closest to the day itself, many congregations sing Jerusalem – the same hymn sung with rousing effect by the Barmy Army when their team takes the field.
Once on a par with Christmas revelries, the celebrations are now more muted, and there is even a movement to abolish St George as being too Anglo-Saxon. This is ludicrous! St George was born in Palestine and served as a soldier in the Roman army in Turkey. According to legend he killed a dragon that was terrorising the inhabitants of a town in Libya, in return for the people converting to Christianity.
As well as being the patron of the scouting movement, St George is also the saintly representative of Spain, Portugal, Georgia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia. This is what we should be celebrating as a fitting symbol for England. It embraces diversity; welcomes people of differing cultures; is creative and indestructible, standing up for what it believes in. I see no shame in being proud of that.
William Shakespeare is said to have been born on St George’s Day, and though nobody really knows, it would seem fitting for this great English playwright who loved his country and admired other nations to have the final word.
"In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears
Then imitate the action of
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot!
Follow your spirit and
upon this charge
Cry, ‘God for Harry, England, and St George!"