May Day Versus St George's Day
Stories from the Whitstable Gazette.
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.
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.”
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?
© 2012 Christopher James Stone