May Day versus St George's Day

St George's Day

At the time of writing it is St. George’s Day. I’ve just come back from Tesco where I saw a car flying five St. George’s flags. There were two at the front, two at the back, and one in the middle of the windscreen attached to the aerial. That’s a lot of flags.

I’ve been seeing St. George’s flags all day.

Later I was watching the news and a man was being interviewed. He was wearing a red and white jester’s cap and was waving a small St. George’s flag. He had a drink in his hand. He said, “It’s to celebrate one man’s day. The Irish can celebrate their saint’s day by having a drink, so why can’t the English?”

Which would be true if it wasn’t also vaguely hypocritical. The reason the English don’t celebrate our saint’s day is that – generally speaking - we’re not Catholic, so we don’t believe in saints.

Another reason might be that St. Patrick was a real, historical figure, whereas St. George was not.

The Irish are celebrating real events. St. Patrick really did go to Ireland to convert the Irish, but there never was a dragon and there never was a St. George, and St. George never came to England. So what are we celebrating exactly?

The triumph of myth over history perhaps.

There’s one theory that the story is allegorical. The dragon represents the energy of primitive Earth-Powers being defeated by the Cross. Some say it represents the triumph of Christianity over paganism. Others that it is the triumph of reason over instinct, or of science over nature.

But it’s very definitely the triumph of the English over the Welsh, as the Welsh symbol is a red dragon.

St. George is also the patron Saint of Russia, Greece, Lithuania, Georgia, Ethiopia, Portugal, Aragon, Catalonia and Palestine, plus an obscure Hungarian-speaking part of Transylvania called Szekely-Land. I know this because I’ve been there. They paint St. George’s crosses on all the trees.

As to whether St. George’s Day should be a bank holiday: well why not?

I could always do with another day off work.

May Day

There is talk of abolishing May Day as a bank holiday and moving it to another date. The argument is that there are already too many bank holidays in the Spring, while at other times of the year there is a shortage.

However one of the suggested dates for its replacement is April 23rd, St George’s Day, which is only a week earlier.

This kind of gives the game away. The abolition of May Day has less to do with practical considerations, and more to do with its historical association as a left-wing festival.

But May Day was a festival long before it was established as International Worker’s Day, and it has always caused fear and consternation in establishment circles due to its long-held association with drinking, dancing, and lewd behaviour. It was also always clearly recognised as the people’s own festival.

The puritans tried to ban it, while James I – perhaps in an attempt to gain favour with his subjects south of the border – gave it his official sanction. In his Book of Sports, it is listed as permitted, alongside archery, dancing, "leaping, vaulting, or any other such harmless recreation", in the following words: "May-games,Whitsun-ales and Morris-dances, and the setting up of May-poles". Also allowed: “women shall have leave to carry rushes to the church for the decorating of it, according to their old custom.”

In medieval times it was associated with Robin Hood and was known as Robin Hood’s Day. The people would elect a Robin Hood for the season, who would go about with his Merry Men causing mayhem.

There were May Day games, and plays and jousts and archery contests. There was May Pole dancing for the girls and Morris Dancing for the boys. It was also recognised as a time when young men and women would meet outside the official confines of marriage to declare their love for each other.

Such relationships were known as Greenwood Marriages and the children born of them were especially honoured as Children of the May or Merrybegots.

All of which reminds us that the people of these Islands have a culture of our own, entirely separate from the officially sanctioned festivals of the Church and the State, which we will continue to practice in our own way.

I wonder if this is the real reason for this latest attempt to abolish May Day?

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Comments 11 comments

John Holden profile image

John Holden 4 years ago

St George's Day always has an underlying whiff of bigotry to me being aligned with extreme right wing groups who do nothing to represent this "fair and sceptred isle" and everything that is to be hated.

Let's stick with May Day. It's honest and holds no grudges.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 4 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

I agree John. Wouldn't mind another bank holiday, but I think Midsummer should be it.


Russell-D profile image

Russell-D 4 years ago from Southern Ca.

CJ - is the Whistable Gazette a new place to hang your typewriter? Love the research behind the article; isn't it most fun digging up a a barrel full of unrelated information and constructing a readable piece that people on each side of the argument can find something for them to like or disagree with and take the time to let you know. David Russell


CJStone profile image

CJStone 4 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Hello David, I've been writing a 350 word fortnightly column for the Whitstable Gazette since 2009. You'll see that quite a few of my pieces here on HubPages are made up of little 350 word segments, like this one. This is two separate stories. It's just my way of using up material that might otherwise disappear, and yes, unlike a newspaper column, the web gives people the opportunity to comment on what I've written, and for me to reply to them, so getting a debate going. I like that. It feels more personal. Thanks for dropping by. I see you've got one on dumplings in Samarkand. You do get around don't you?


Russell-D profile image

Russell-D 4 years ago from Southern Ca.

Didn't know about WG. It was your pre Hub Pages that now benefits us. Appreciated. Getting around? In 55 years we crammed a lot of travel, from when I was an ad writer to owning a Hollywood Film Production Co. I looked at it as Yes, being selfish but more so travel while we could. It was a great run, great fun, stories to tell and meals to reenjoy. Like you, I channel so the memories can live again. For me it's the kid's story books and the blogs that are my current "assignments". David


CJStone profile image

CJStone 4 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

You're lucky to have travelled so widely David, and it's good that you are using the fruits of your experience in your various projects. I shall keep following.

WG wasn't pre HubPages btw: I still write for them, I just recycle the stories here afterwards, usually in the form of collections with a similar theme, like the ones above.


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 4 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Chris, since there's not a snowflake's chance I'll ever have a subscription to the Whitstable Gazette, I'm glad you're re-cycling your columns here at HP.

Until recently, my only knowledge of St. George slaying the dragon was the statue of the "event" just inside the gates of the Kansas City Renaissance Festival grounds. For whatever reason, I was never curious enough to learn more, so I had no idea this non-saint was such a source of discourse in your lovely country! Thanks for spelling it out here!

As for a bank holiday, Midsummer makes perfect sense since on this side of the Pond, we have the Fourth of July. Seems only fair you should have a holiday that roughly corresponds to our split from the Mother Country. lol!

But I'm guessing you're suggesting Midsummer so you'll have more time to celebrate (and recuperate from) the Solstice, right? ;D


CJStone profile image

CJStone 4 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Hello JamaGenee, the discourse is about the bank holiday, which polarises around left/right issues. People aren't really interested in the saint. The right wing want to make a big to-do about the saint's day for patriotic reasons. May Day as a bank holiday was brought in by a Labour government and is associated with the left, so they dislike that. My suggestion about Midsummer is that it is already a recognised festival, and that it has historic associations. Midsummer's day was always celebrated in the past, plus, yes, it would also be good to have a day to recuperate from the solstice. Great to see you here JamaGenee.


Avalon Adam profile image

Avalon Adam 2 years ago

Keep both and make St Gs day a bank holiday. Why not we already have less bank holidays than the Germans and French. I belive the last person to abolish Mayday was Oliver Cromwell , worried that it was a day of unbridled lust and frolicking - which is great by me.

John Holden, if you are going to dismiss and marginalise St Georges day as " underlying whiff of bigotry to me being aligned with extreme right wing groups", then it will just remain the preserve of those right wing groups. The easiest way to prevent it being so is to embrace it for ourselves.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 2 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

I'd be happy for St G's day to be a bank holiday Adam, but if it came down to a choice would opt for Midsummer instead. I could do with a day off after the solstice.


Avalon Adam profile image

Avalon Adam 2 years ago

Without a doubt. It just makes sense to have a public holiday half way through the year. Rather than all crammed with 7 weeks of each other. I am fortunate that being a civil servant , I claim Solstice as a religious day off so I am always guaranteed I can take a days leave then. Happy bunny.

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