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Today, April 23, is Saint George’s Day – the national day of England. It won’t be marked in quite the same way this year because of lockdown, but here’s everything you need to know about this historic feast day and how it’s usually celebrated.

It recognizes Saint George, the patron saint of England.

According to a centuries-old legend, he slayed a dragon which guarded the only well in the Libyan town of Silene, saving a princess who was due to be sacrificed in the process. Though it’s sometimes presumed that Saint George was English, he’s actually believed to have been born in Cappodocia – modern-day Turkey – and said to have died in Lydda (now Israel) in 303 AD. It’s understood that he was executed for refusing to take part in a pagan ritual, which made him a Christian martyr.

In fact, he never even visited England.

According to English Heritage, Saint George’s reputation for holiness and virtue spread across Europe in the centuries following his death and he became a popular symbol of heroism for medieval English kings. The date of his death – April 23 – became a feast day celebrated in England from around the 9th century onwards.

Saint George’s Day isn’t unique to England.

Saint George is also the patron saint of several other nations – as Larry, the cat who lives with the U.K.’s Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street, has helpfully reminded his Twitter followers today.

Saint George’s Day isn’t a national holiday in England.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn pledged to make Saint George’s Day a national holiday in his 2017 manifesto – along with Saint Andrew’s Day (Scotland, November 30), Saint David’ Day (Wales, March 1), and Saint Patrick’s Day (Northern Ireland, March 17). However, his party lost the general election so his plans never manifested.

It isn’t celebrated on the same scale as Saint Patrick’s Day.

Saint George’s Day isn’t synonymous with nationwide partying like Saint Patrick’s Day in Ireland, though celebratory parades are held in many towns and cities. A good number of pubs will be decorated with the Saint George’s flag, and country villages may well hold traditional Morris Dancing events.

Celebrations have been more muted in recent decades partly because the Saint George’s flag became somewhat co-opted by far-right English nationalist groups in the ’80s. During his tenure as Mayor of London, Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged Londoners to “reclaim” the flag from “extremist” groups and recognize Saint George’s Day with pride.

It’s usually marked in some way by major English sporting organizations.

This year, The Football Association (which oversees all professional and amateur soccer in England) has made a touching short film honoring key workers who are working hard to combat coronavirus.

Major political leaders acknowledge Saint George’s Day, too.

Woody Johnson, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.K., shared his celebratory video message on Twitter this morning.

There’s no special Saint George’s Day dish.

Still, some folks might use the occasion as an excuse to tuck into typically English fare like fish and chips, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, or chicken tikka masala. Others may bake a Victoria sponge cake: after all, its cream and strawberry jam filling echoes the colors of the Saint George’s flag.

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Have you ever celebrated Saint George’s Day in England?

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Filed Under: St George's Day
By Nick Levine