St George's Day: why England won't celebrate its patron saint

The St George flag

How St George, a third-century Roman soldier from modern-day Turkey, came to be patron saint of England

LAST UPDATED AT 14:25 ON Tue 22 Apr 2014

DESPITE efforts to whip England into a state of patriotic pride on St George's Day, celebrations for the country’s patron saint have never really taken off.

Last year, London mayor Boris Johnson put on a cultural event in Trafalgar Square "to celebrate the very best of what England has to offer", but, unlike St Patrick's Day in Ireland, St George's Day rarely prompts spontaneous celebration.

As it approaches once again, we examine what is known of England's patron saint, and why the commemoration of his death is so subdued.

When is St George's Day? 
St George's Day is on 23 April, but it is not a national holiday in England – unlike St Patrick's Day in Ireland. The date was set by the Council of Oxford in 1222.

Who was St George? 
Not much is known about St George, except that he wasn't an Englishman. Historians believe he was born in Cappadocia, a part of modern Turkey, into a noble Christian family in the third century, and followed in his father's footsteps by joining the Roman army, the BBC says. Tradition suggests that when Emperor Diocletian ordered the systematic persecution of Christians, George refused to take part and was tortured and ultimately executed in Palestine. He was later recognised as an early Christian martyr. The legend of St George, clad in armour, slaying a dragon and rescuing a maiden, was a medieval invention.

Why is he associated with England?
According to historian Michael Collins, one of the earliest known British references to St George appears in an account by St Adamnan, the seventh-century Abbot of Iona who heard about St George from a French bishop named Arcuif. But his reputation began to grow only when returning crusaders said the saint had made a miraculous appearance and led them into battle at the siege of Antioch in 1098. They also passed on the legend of St George's dragon slaying to the royal court.

When King Edward III founded the Order of the Garter in around 1348, he placed it under St George's patronage, and at about the same time English soldiers were required to wear "a signe of Saint George" on their uniforms. St George appears in Shakespeare's version of King Henry V's rousing address to his troops before the Battle of Agincourt: "Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George'."

Other countries celebrating St George include Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, Macedonia, Romania and Serbia.

Why are celebrations in England so muted? 
Historian Diarmaid Macculloch tells the Huffington Post that English apathy towards St George's Day may be a consequence of the reformation. "The English, being Protestants for nearly five centuries, have never had much time for saints' days – same with the Scots," Macculloch said. "Neither really need their patron saints to celebrate nationhood."

But others draw a distinction between St George and other patron saints of the British Isles. "St Andrew's and St Patrick's Day celebrations reflect the assertion of an identity distinct from the dominant English identity," says Robert Ford, a lecturer in politics at the University of Manchester. "It is not clear whom the English define themselves against, or in comparison to."

Research carried out in 2013 by the think tank British Future suggested that many English people are "nervous" about celebrating St George's Day. The poll, published by the Daily Telegraph, found that many English people are concerned that national symbols like the St George's Cross flag may be interpreted as racist.

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I'm always amused at articles that bang on about St. George not being an Englishman, yet cheerfully ignore the fact that St. Patrick wasn't Irish, or that St. Andrew wasn't a Scot. The real patron saint of the English (and I mean the English, not some one-size-fits-all civic identity given to any race, creed or colour) was St. Edmund - an Englishman, king and saint.

Here's one Englishman who isn't too gutless to celebrate what he is. Those English people who are too gutless and embarrassed to do so deserve total and utter contempt.

Couldn't agree more.

Worryingly, it seems to be those who believe the English aren't inclusive enough who seem to bring up this issue time and time again. "He's not even English!" they cry, as though they expect some sort of crisis of nationality from England.
The same kind of people who lambast racial purity nonsense, then hypocritically go on to say England is "just a mongrel nation".

that was a good read, thank you

1.George was neither a Turk nor a Muslim but a white European of Greek nobility.
2.The English are an ethnic group whose ancestral ethnic domain is England, whose mother tongue is English, of white European race and of primarily Christian cultural heritage.
3. They do not need to define themselves AGAINST other people, any more than the Welsh or the Japanese, but they do have a history, literature and customs of their own, while absorbing things from and giving things to other ethnic groups.
4. Celebration of St George's Day/Shakespeare's Birthday is a legitimate act, and people who are not English are welcome to join in.
5. The Royal Society of St George (on-line) is the foremost patriotic organisation proclaiming this celebration in the friendly manner that befits our "island race" and "this happy breed".

It's not so much various articles making the mistake of saying St George wasn't English (like that matters) that irks me, it's the fact many claim he was ethnicity that wouldn't even exist for about 1,100 years after his death.

The really annoying thing is that on government forms (passport forms for example) the nationality "English" is NOT ALLOWED! One can declare ones nationality to be Welsh, Scottish or Irish but Englishmen are forced to use the term "British". Allegedly the term "English" is now equated with people who have an extreme right wing bias and xenophobia as portrayed by the television character Alf Garnett. Of course when quite moderate middle-of-the-road people refer to the capital as Londonistan tha cat is out of the bag.

The English have yet to reclaim a sense of Englishness from racist thugs who have made the symbols of Englishness into symbols of football hooliganism and racial hatred at their worst extreme . We have much to be proud of, but if we will not stand and create a definition of Englishness for ourselves that proclaims our love for the land in which we live, our remarkable heritage, and our pride in what is laudable about the English people then we leave those definitions and the associated symbols in the hands of idiots.

Oh, really? Last time I checked you can't put Scottish as your nationality on a passport. I'd love to be corrected, though.

(with a source, because I'd like to take advantage!)

Hatred and thuggery are not English, but racial pride is as legitimate for white people and Anglo-Saxons as it is for anyone else.

Hi, I'm Scottish but my passport says British. I hope that clears it up.

The Biased BBC ignores St Georges day, and anyone who mentions it. Unless a politician criticises the day, then they get good coverage. Way overdue to remove the licence tax.

Being Christian you would think I would revel at the thought of celebrating this day. But, as with many other English people it is hard to relate to a figure that is wrapped in myth. I think more people could relate to Winston Churchill, the man that walked us through the paths of hell and into pastures new. Maybe we should celebrate his life with a Bank holiday, I know most folk would light up the BBQ and raise a glass to him!

We're obsessed in England with not appearing to be racist. The Scots don't mind so much - saying whatever they like about the English.

I've even met folk who get really enthusiastic about any nationalism at all from anyone other than the English - people from our own shores finding excuses to put England down and say nice things about almost anyone (though North Korea doesn't get too many defenders these days)

I think we need the clear, strong message that patriotism is love of ones own culture and history - quite a different thing from "hatred of the other".

Alas the newspapers and especially the BBC are populated by numpties who think human beings don't need to feel part of some greater identity

St George didn't come from Turkey, he came from Lydda in Palestine, modern day Israel.

Same old article wheeled-out, year after bloody year….

@quetzacoatl. I'd hazard a guess that even the most mildest and inclusive displays of English national consciousness would still get tedious types like you all upset and bothered - and would still inspire the predictable, lazy cliches that you've just done above.

How are we supposed to move on when bores like you constantly remind us of crap like 'football hooliganism', which in all honesty, hasn't been a big English national level thing since the early 90s. Move on, it's boring, and frankly, not accurate.

Corrected error. My mistake.

Part of the problem is that St.George seems so very comic book, like Sir Galahad. What about Alfred the Great? Whatever Ian Hislop might think of him, King Alfred is a fabulous English totem, a dark age Churchill. He also fostered an erudite, intellectual court which embraced European scholarship. The vision he had to transform a divided and fractured nation has many modern metaphors. Oh, and one other thing, the removal of English Sea Shanties from the Last Night of the Proms. This has me in what they used to call in P G Wodehouse books 'a blue funk'. If it hadn't been for Lord Nelson where would we be, WHERE WOULD WE BE! (clears throat in readiness to sing)...

Why all the debate on where St . George came from? It's a day to celebrate on being English no matter where you are from.

Please do not include Irish here; that's like including French or Spanish and saying why are they allowed specific nationalities on official forms instead of saying British. Ireland is a distinct and separate country, utterly unlike Scotland or Wales, and as it's not part of Britain, of course the nationality is thus Irish and not British.

I love the way you define George's ethnicity against other ethnicity's and identity's 'neither a turk nor Muslim'. Then go on about what specifically defines 'The English' in racial terms (i.e specifically excluding other groups) dubiously I might add, and in the NEXT SENTENCE say 'they do not need to define themselves AGAINST other people'.

What's most interesting in this issue is how the St. George followers have legitimised their celebration by inventing a group to celebrate against, either 'do gooder political correcties', muslims and the best group - the imaginary people who say you shouldn't celebrate st. Georges day. This smacks a bit off for most and therefore these people will never attract the majority.

"Exclusiveness" has two possible aspects.

I don't hate my neighbours or other families, nor other nations or races. There is no reason why individuals of foreign ancestry cannot be assimilated or adopted into the English racial mainstream. The English are a major indigenous section of the government-classified "White British" and have an identity reflected in their literature that goes back to Bede and Chaucer. Read your Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Dickens, Kipling, Chesterton and Larkin, just for starters.

I am opposed to people who desecrate our character and memory by hooliganism, public boozing, shouting abuse at other people and scribbling offensive graffiti on walls.

But we are not Arabs, Israelis, Poles, Nigerians or Multiculturals. As a French-speaking Jewish teaching colleague driven from Algeria once said to me, "A home for anyone or everyone is a home for no-one." Homeland, ditto.

Making it a bank holiday would be a good start!

I'm not sure I quite follow your point, could you clarify?
Don't you see people get put off by talking in terms of race? Whenever it's st. Georges day 'race' appears. Does that happen in St. Patricks day? No. It's just fun.
You seem rightly sceptical of the 'government classified White British'. Where do you draw the line at who the British are? There has been millennium's of invasion and mixing from the vikings, Normans, Romans, Celts and beyond. Isn't it surely arbitrary to say 'right, from the 18th Century onwards this is the British race'. Europe has stopped fighting on ethnic terms which is why 'white' has become an ethnicity but that is a very recent invention. And to say British is 'white European' ignores so much history of tribal/ethnic bloodshed among the whites of Europe.

Can't you see that your looking for an enemy - everyone who comes across pro st. Georges day is looking for an enemy - to hate against. There isn't one and it's pathetic and therefore if your looking for a celebration on those grounds you will all fail. We already have day's such as bonfire night that are established celebrations based in historic events, lets utilize those for a national day instead of some arbitrary church given day that has been hijacked by people with racial agendas.

More and more people are booking the day off work on 23 April as an unofficial bank holiday. Support for St Georges Day is growing. This article would not have been written 10 years ago, which proves it is becoming an 'issue'.

Tell this to the BNP's voting percentage.

It angers me that some English think of the flag of saint George and the Union Jack as ''racist''. Foreigners are allowed and even encouraged to celebrate their national identity and we're supposed to show them respect for doing so and yet many Britons have no respect for our own cultural identity. We have to get back to a time when being English and British was something to be proud of because if we don't we'll lose a sense of who we are as a nation and as a people. Happy saint George's day everyone!

Not Churchill thanks

People who are born in Ireland (North or South) are allowed to enter the US Green Card Visa Lottery. Welsh, English and Scottish (i.e. British) are not. To find out why you will have to ask Uncle Sam but it does seem that one can be British and Irish at the same time!

There are some peculiar rules around as British people can travel to Ireland without a passport and Irish people can travel to Britain without a passport and vote!. Deep down in spite of the troubles the countries are, so to speak, joined at the hip.

Seeing as the St. George's Flag was long ago tarnished by its association with racism, perhaps it is time to make the dominant celebration, Shakespeare Day, who after all was born (and died) on the same day. And make Shakespeare Day a bank holiday. That way people can be patriotic and inclusive at the same time - just like Shakespeare.

I've met "difficult" people who claim that the Irish potato famine was the result of biological warfare perpetrated by the English! You really don't want to meet rabid racist nutters like those as they will just spoil your whole day.

My own research indicates that the famine was the result of everyone growing the same species of potato. The result was that when the pestilence hit it got the lot.

In fact Peel repealed the Corn Laws to bring down the price of grain. For himself this was political suicide as English grain barons wanted the price of grain kept high.

The potato famine was not my fault and I don't like people who try to blame me for it. Quite frankly such people need to see a doctor.

The enemy is officialdom and their stupid rules. For example a few weeks ago I had several tyres punctured. Yobs had been seen loitering around evidently up to no good so a builder who was working nearby shouted at them and told them to clear off.

Later six flat tyres were discovered that had up to NINE punctures per tyre. I dialled 101 and reported the crime but to my amazement the police informed me that it could not be classed as a Hate Crime because I was white British!

To add insult to injury the local police claimed that the tyres must have aged and gone down by themselves. You couldn't make it up!

Mebyon Kernow would never agree.

I always celebrate St. George's Day. I wear a red rose, and fly the flag. I am proud of my country, it's achievements and it's people. But then I am from the North. London has not been English for 50 plus years,

Yeah, all 5% of them.

Yes, people can be put off by the word or concept of "race", and it would not be my intention to make people of other races feel threatened or rejected, but the "racial" history of England is a fact - we are not a nation of "immigrants" like the USA, nor are we "mongrels" (a word of abuse applied incorrectly and almost solely to English people, but not to mixed-race people). The Saxons and Normans were "tribally" different but "racially" similar.

St Patrick's Day has been an occasion for some Irish folk to have a go at the British; and they would have a point, because England gave the neigbouring island a rough deal in past centuries. However, I have no sympathy for the IRA, etc.

I support reconciliation and unity among peoples of European descent.

The theme of "race" is a negative obsession of the far-left, who seek to disparage the achievements of white nations, especially English-speaking ones.

Alfred was indeed the first great Englishman.

He is sometimes described as a "dark-skinned Palestinian", but there is no evidence or reason to suppose that he was not a white man; quite the reverse. Nor was he Jewish.

The ethnicity existed, that's why it says 'modern day turkey' because it was called Asia minor. Same people, different name.

I totally and utterly agree.


I think you are suggesting demographics that are closer to your average rugby union crowd anyway.

Football fans in England are as about as racially mixed and harmonious as they are anywhere else in the world. We actually complain about racist fans in other countries you know! It gets us into a lot of bother. And do I not like that.

Wrong not the same people or ethnicity as he lived during the period of the Byzantine Empire who at that point in time were the residents of Asia minor, then a Christian territory.

I'm hoping the English and Irish are burying the hatchet.

I don't know if it strikes other people but the stuff some Scots come out with about the English would certainly be considered."racism" if we said it here about any country*

"Racism" has become a very silly word - which changes meanings every few years to suit whichever political opportunist is around.

* depressing, as I love the Scots and the UK. It all does seem rather silly. I suppose they have their reasons.

Completely different people, you might as well be suggesting the people inhabiting the area now known as Brazil in the third century are largely the same people inhabiting Brazil today.

The area inhabited by the Turkish today was the domain of what would become the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium Empire), inhabited mainly by Romanised Greeks and Anatolian Greeks, from 330 AD to 1453 AD when it was finally conquered completely by the Ottoman Turks, who are the successors to the Seljuk Turks, who in turn hail from the original homeland of the Turkish people in Transoxiana, Central Asia.

Wouldn't the word be 'xenophobic'? An Irishman can no more be 'racist' to an Englishman as a Liberian can be 'racist' to a Central African.

Pah! bilge.....St.George's is the patron saint of England. Celebrating it is to celebrate English identity. Why is okay for the Irish/Welsh/Scots/ to celebrate their patron saint/national identity but it's defacto ( according to people like you) wrong for the English to because it's based on hate. I'm English and I'm happy to celebrate that without "hating " anybody else...obviously this is incomprehensible to you.

Who cares what Hislop thinks?
We should ditch St George and go back to St Edward the Confessor and then we could have a bank holiday in October ...

They are also joined by a border on the island of Ireland and Ireland is in the British Isles. Geographically Ireland is British ...
Donning flame retardant underwear in 3..2..1

Clearly he's not from modern day Turkey - since Turkey was Greece in his day ( or the Eatsern Empire anyway ) - before the Turks invaded and ethically cleaned the Christians out of the lands they conquered.

The political establishments run the same program across the Western world. The last paragraph could have been said by anyone from Sweden, Holland, you name it.

"Despite invasions by Saxons, Romans, Vikings, Normans, and others, the
genetic makeup of today's white Britons is much the same as it was
12,000 ago, a new book claims"

From "British Have Changed Little Since Ice Age, Gene Study Says" by James Owen, available online.

No one can be racist to anyone, as the term is based on a flawed concept. It doesn't recognize the realities and complexities of ethnic conflict, those who use and abuse the term also believe they can create a multi-ethnic utopia, something never achieved, though tried endless times.

Unfortunately, when demographics change, so does the future of a neighbourhood, a city or an entire nation.

Even more amusing is the fear of racism theory as the reason why people are uncomfortable with identifying with their patron saint. I am yet to meet one non white/English person who has a problem with it. When are people going to learn that? We are all aware that the only people marching with a cross of St George as their banner is the EDL and other right wing groups. It is the EDF/rightwing extremists that us ethnics are wary of. Reclaim your symbolism! The Scots haven't let the cross of St Andrew be the preserve of extremists/fringe mobs nor have the Irish with St Patrick.

So the real question is, "What makes St George such a hot potato, while St Patrick heralds jollity and merriment? Ditto St Andrew although less boisterously?" Answers on a post card.

They said he was Turkish? I thought they said he's from what is modern day Turkey? That would prob make him Galician. Which might make him more Irish than Patrick because the Gauls are Celts and the name Patrick would imply he's Patrician which would make Paddy a Roman citizen which all makes this clear in the end because we are people that luve on a speck of dust in the universe so get used to sharing it! Lol

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