Did you know that Monday, April 23 — or 23 April as we say in England — is St. George’s Day?
My guess is probably not, and you are not alone. Of the four national saints of the British Isles — including St. Patrick in Ireland, St. Andrew in Scotland and St. David in Wales — St. George is the most neglected of them all.
St. George, who was a Roman soldier in the first century, is famous for slaying a dragon, and his life and death used to be a big deal. In fact, from the 15th-18th centuries, the feast day was so exuberantly celebrated in England, it was on a par with Christmas.
However, many people today in the land of my birth ignore the day; we don’t even have a national public holiday in our patron saint’s honor. To add further insult to poor old St George, April 23 also is "Shakespeare" Day.
Some towns and villages do commemorate St George’s Day by hanging the English flag — the red cross of St George on a white background — serving English afternoon tea and arranging the enactment of peculiarly English traditions such as "morris dancing" and "Punch-and-Judy" puppet shows.
To explain morris dancing: It is a traditional English folk dance performed to music, predominantly by men who wear, wave and bang together a range of items including bells, handkerchiefs, sticks and swords. They look like circus clowns with assorted junk hanging off their brightly colored clothes, dancing and jumping around poles in a bizarre but highly synchronized fashion. It is what an American might call "nerdy in the extreme."
Punch-and-Judy shows were a stalwart of my childhood, especially when we went to a seaside town, as we often did to see my grandparents. Punch and Judy date from Victorian times and were targeted at children. A puppeteer inside a brightly colored portable booth plays a series of anarchic scenes usually between Punch and his wife Judy – although appearances are made by other traditional characters including the police constable, the crocodile, the baby and the doctor. The Punch puppet is a hunchback with a jutting chin and a jester’s hat who speaks in a squawking voice and always says "That’s the way to do it." I guess you have to be English to understand the appeal.
Anyway, as most of my English friends and family just go to work or about their usual Monday morning routine next week, I think it is sad that few of them will give more than a passing thought to St George’s Day in spite of some recent political attempts to once again raise its profile.
It makes me even more appreciative of the wonderful patriotism and celebrations around July 4 in the United States. The British do not have an equivalent national holiday that celebrates being British or who we are. Maybe this is because the complex and feudal history of the United Kingdom means that the country evolved as a group of four nations — England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — that spent a great deal of time fighting each other. By comparison, there is a feeling of real unity and patriotism in the United States. Maybe this was born out of the fight to overthrow the British and form a new country with its own ideals.
Whatever the reason, I believe it is a great shame that the British don’t unite behind a cohesive national day and learn a lesson from our American cousins.
God bless America!
Francis grew up in London and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009 with her American husband, Carl, and English dogs — soon to be joined by an American West Highland terrier. Contact her at email@example.com or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.