April 23rd marks St Georges Day both in England where he is the patron saint and also around the world. But who was St George and why is the day important?
Every year, on 23 April, people around the world celebrate St. George's Day. It’s popular with several churches, including the Anglican Communion, which the Church of England is a part of. It is also popular in countries and cities where Saint George is the patron Saint. This includes England, Canada, Croatia, and the city of Moscow in Russia.
Whilst St George is the patron saint of England, it is a not a national holiday, a fact which is raised each year in the media. Many others countries enjoy a day off to celebrate their national day, so why not England?
The Legend of Saint George
According to legend, there was a dragon terrorizing the town of ‘Silene’ in Libya. The Dragon lived near the town spring, and when people came to drink or get water they would have to offer sheep as a sacrifice. Eventually the town ran out of sheep and a young maiden was set to be sacrificed.
Along came Saint George, who was a knight in the crusades. Before the girl was actually sacrificed he came along and defeated the dragon, saving the townspeople from the tyranny of the dragon. After he slayed the dragon, the townspeople were so moved by his deeds and his belief in God that they all converted to Christianity. This story is still told today and has been made into books and plays that are told all over the world.
The Real Saint George
There are so many myths and legends surrounding St. George it is hard to separate the facts from the myths. St. George was a historical figure, however, and there are a few widely accepted facts known about him and his life.
The real Saint George was a Roman soldier, who died because of his belief in Christ. He was born in Turkey, and was raised by Christian parents in the 3rd century A.D. He protested the Romans persecution against Christians, and was imprisoned and tortured for his beliefs. Eventually, he was beheaded in Palestine. Despite St. George's association with England, it is unlikely that he ever travelled there or had any real association with the country in his lifetime.
St George’s Day Traditions and Customs in England
One of the oldest traditions surrounding St. George's day is to wear a red rose in the lapel of your coat or pinned to your shoulder. The rose is the national symbol of England, and the St. George is so closely associated with England, it has become his symbol as well.
Another custom is to attend special church service where the hymn "Jerusalem" is sung - those that had old-fashioned school assembly’s will remember the words! Many people also fly the flag of St. George’s cross on this day.
A great way to celebrate St. George’s day is to read one of the written accounts of The Legend of Saint George. Organize a reading in your church or school, and read the book aloud. Another great way to celebrate Saint George and all the literature surrounding him is by staging a play about Saint George and the Dragon. There are already a number of existing versions, or you could create an adaption of your own.
Traditions around the world
Many other countries around the world also celebrate St George's Day include Canada (where Newfoundland has a day’s holiday to honour St George), Croatia, Czech Republic (held each year on 24th April), Portugal, Cyprus, Greece, Serbia (held on 6th May), Bulgaria (public holiday where a whole lamb is consumed), Spain (which re-enacts the dragon and princess scenario), Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia.
Image credit; Pastorius