Patron saints are chosen as special protectors or guardians over all areas of life. England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland all have their own patron saints. In England, Saint George’s Day is celebrated annually on April 23rd, which is the anniversary of St. George’s death.
The legend of Saint George and the Dragon tells the story of the saint taming and slaying a dragon that guarded the only well in the town of Silene. Residents of the town had to offer a daily human sacrifice to the dragon, for it to allow them to access the well and retrieve water. On the day St. George visited Silene, he killed the dragon and saved a princess who was due to be sacrificed that day. The people of Silene converted to Christianity as a thank you to George.
During his lifetime, St. George rose up the ranks of the Roman army as a soldier and became a personal guard to Emperor Diocletian. However, the Emperor actually tortured St. George in an attempt to force him to deny his Christian faith. While being tortured, George showed great bravery before he was eventually beheaded in Palestine. Following his death, St. Georges head was buried in a church in Rome and Pope Gelasius declared him a saint in 494AD.
If you look at the English flag, the red cross and white background are actually St. George’s Cross, a symbol so connected with English identity that St. George has his own national holiday. Perhaps the most British day of the year, St. George’s Day is the perfect opportunity to celebrate this country and do something quintessentially British.
Why is St George’s Day NOT a bank holiday?
In many other countries, the day celebrating the nation’s patron saint is a bank holiday, for example, St Patrick’s Day is a bank holiday in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
In England however, it’s business as usual on St George’s Day, with workplaces and shops remaining open. In the past, St. George’s Day was celebrated across England and was recognised as a national event, however, recognition of the event has faded away in recent centuries.
More recently, there has been some momentum surrounding St. George’s Day, with people calling for the government to declare it a national bank holiday. However, this is yet to materialise.
How do we celebrate St George’s Day?
When St. George’s Day was first celebrated back in the early 15th century, it was thought to hold similar importance to Christmas. Today’s celebrations aren’t as widespread, but a lot of people still like to mark the day. Some traditional St. George’s Day celebrations include Punch and Judy shows, flying the St George’s Cross, traditional Morris dancing and singing the hymn Jerusalem. Churches also tend to hold a special mass for St George’s day.
We’ll be raising a glass on the 23rd to Saint George and our history, because who doesn’t love an excuse to celebrate!