St George’s Day is the feast day of St George, the patron saint of England. It falls on April 23 every year and is used by many as a day to celebrate English history and culture. St George, who slayed a dragon according to legend, is also the patron saint to other cities, regions and counties around the world, including Catalonia in Spain, and religious celebrations in his honour take place in various countries.
In England, St George’s Day is not a public holiday and, although the day is not celebrated as widely as the saints’ days of other countries such as Ireland and Scotland, there has been a resurgence in traditions to mark the day in recent years and there is also an ongoing campaign to make it a bank holiday.
It is common to see pubs and other businesses displaying the red and white flag of St George to mark the occasion, while parades and pageants are held in some parts of the country and Morris Dancing and Punch and Judy shows are other traditional forms of entertainment sometimes used to celebrate the day.
April 23 is believed to be the day when St George died, when he was executed for his Christian beliefs in 303 AD, being buried in a town in Israel. He was not directly connected with England but was a Roman soldier born in an area then called Cappadocia which now forms part of Turkey in the 3rd century AD.
The legend of St George is that he freed the people of a town called Silene by slaying a dragon which guarded the well, saving the life of a princess who was due to be sacrificed. According to the story, the townspeople converted to Christianity, and the tale has been used to inspire bravery every since and St George became a symbol of the protection of Christians.
He became adopted as a important symbolic figure in England after he was said to have appeared to lead Christian soldiers fighting in the Battle of Antioch during the Crusades at the end of the 11th century. The Crusaders brought back their adoration of the saint when they returned home and in 1222 St George’s Day was declared a feast day in England.
By the 15th century it was seen as one of the most important feasts of the year but its popularity dipped as the centuries passed. It is not a national holiday and is not widely celebrated but various organisations and figures, including London Mayor Boris Johnson, have campaigned in recent years to promote England’s national day.