Sirena Bergman, Independent, April 22, 2018
I grew up in Spain, where – perhaps surprisingly – St George’s Day is a pretty big deal. All the towns in the country that are named after some variation of St George have local festivities.
It’s known locally as The Day of the Book, because it comes the day after the death of national treasure Miguel de Cervantes, and the same day of the death of the world’s most overrated writer of all time: William Shakespeare.
Anything which encourages more people to read more books is fine, but I’d much rather we celebrated this day on the basis of authors people actually relate to: Why not JK Rowling’s birthday? Or the anniversary of the publication of The Da Vinci Code? I’d personally push for something Judy Blume-related because I can tell you that Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret had a much better chance of encouraging my preteen contemporaries to get into literature than Don Quixote or the brand of overblown, thinly veiled Greek mythology the Bard was so partial to penning.
Every year there are also calls to turn St George’s Day into a bank holiday. I see it as laziness masquerading as patriotism. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for more time off work, but bearing in mind that 20 April is just a few days before – when many people celebrate marijuana – perhaps that should be the day we all get off work? Spending the day lazing in the sun, honouring California stoner counterculture makes more sense than celebrating some dude fighting a dragon.
This time of year is riddled with bank holidays anyway, so I would argue we’d be better off picking a nice autumnal date and declaring it National Basic Bitch Pumpkin Spiced Latte And Oversized Scarf Day – at least it would space the breaks out a bit.
Bank holidays aside, there’s a faction of the population loudly moaning about the lack of celebration on St George’s Day. They want it to be a huge deal – akin to St Patrick’s Day, which is celebrated across the globe by Irish and non-Irish people who really like fancy dress and Guinness. Aside from the fact that this is an entirely fabricated concept (St George only became our “patron saint” 400 years ago and we don’t even know that much about the guy), the idea of such a figure is deeply hypocritical for a country which has been primarily protestant for almost five centuries and more than half of the public today say they have no religion at all.
Even if you think you can ignore the historical and religious implications of the day – as people are wont to do with things they enjoy, like weddings and Christmas – and convince yourself it’s purely a cultural issue, surely you can see why a whole country celebrating itself has whiffs of dodgy nationalism.
Ireland, Wales and Scotland celebrate their national days as a sign of pride in an identity which has been historically oppressed by England. But English culture is not stifled; in fact it’s been imposed on others throughout hundreds of years of colonialism, which we still don’t seem to be able to fully let go of.
There is a reason why the St George’s flag and not the Union Jack has been coopted time and time again by nationalist and white supremacist groups – it represents the idea that this tiny island is superior by virtue of once having stolen other people’s territory. The irony of a symbol of xenophobia and racism being a flag named after a Roman soldier is not lost on me, but it’s not amusing enough to overcome the darkness of it.
In a world of Ukip, Brexit and Windrush and a US president who retweets Britain First’s islamophobic propaganda, we cannot allow for the normalisation of anything which might be perceived as a dog whistle to the far right.
Like it or not, that’s exactly what St George’s Day is. If you want a day to celebrate, then for goodness sake pick something – anything – less outdated and offensive.