St George's Day: jingoistic or genuine celebration?

Once again the relative merits of England's national day have come under scrutiny

LAST UPDATED AT 15:36 ON Tue 23 Apr 2013

ST GEORGE’S DAY is being celebrated amid the usual debate over the relative merits of England's national day.

Prime Minister David Cameron marked the occasion by by flying a George cross flag over Downing Street and declaring that he was proud to be both English and British.

"I think it is important that people in England can celebrate St George's Day, just as other nations of the United Kingdom celebrate their patron saint's days," he said.

His thoughts were backed up by a YouGov poll for the IPPR thinktank and Cardiff and Edinburgh universities, which found that 73 per cent of people wanted St George's Day to be a public holiday, noted The Guardian.

However, the divisive nature of the day was in evidence among the Daily Telegraph's stable of bloggers and columnists.

Writing on the paper's website, Ed West decried St George's Day as a meaningless celebration of "invented traditions" that spawned an annual slew of "hand-wringing articles about what Englishness means and whether we can now 'claim back the flag from the far Right', or my particular favourite, '[how] St George was Turkish or Palestinian and this shows how vibrantly multicultural English identity is'".

Columnist Philip Johnston agreed with West that the celebration has gained prominence since Scottish devolution in 1998, but suggested that there was substance behind it.

"Has the English national spirit, for so long subsumed beneath a cloak of Britishness, been prodded from its torpor?" he asked. "If so, it is hardly surprising, given the current fixation on Scottish independence... Indeed, the reassertion of Scottish nationalism has reawakened its English counterpart."

The growth of Englishness would one day have political ramifications he argued. "Sooner or later, the English will insist on being heard; but for now, a suitably understated and self-deprecating celebration is in order."

Meanwhile blogger Tim Stanley lamented the fact that few foreigners ever show pride in their English heritage. "The fact stands that while Scottishness and Irishness are bold and globally exported ethnic brands, Englishness is without easy definition."

He claimed that "multiculturalism has rendered English ethnicity almost a taboo subject," and added: "Whenever I see a St George's flag flying I presume I've wandered into some skinhead compound."

It is a problem that also concerns Mirror columnist, Fleet Street Fox. "Today is one of those days where nice people don't know what to do," she says. "If you mention it's St George's Day there are some who'd call you jingoistic. There'd be a few who’d worry you’re one of those badly-spelled English Defence League morons. There'd be many who'd say it's not worth bothering with."

But she risked the ire of Ed West by declaring: "England and her people have done amazing stuff for thousands of years and it's time we took St George back from the haters."

To irritate the Telegraph man further the BBC carried a profile of St George by historian Candida Moss, who pointed out he was born in Turkey and martyred in Palestine in the early 4th Century.

His association with England only arose during medieval times, she explained, when stories about a visit to England and the slaying of the dragon began to spring up. "None of these stories had any basis in fact, but they attracted pilgrims and entertained and inspired parishioners," Moss noted. · 

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