Saint George's Day
Also known as
Feast of Saint George
Saint George's Feast Day
Saint George Feast Day
Slay a Dragon Day
annually on April 23rd
Saint George is believed to have been born in Cappadocia, a region that is now part of Turkey. He became a soldier of high rank, serving under Diocletian. According to legend, he saved the daughter of a Lybian king by slaying a dragon with his magic sword in a town named Silene. During the Diocletianic Persecution, the most severe persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire, George refused to renounce his Christian faith. He was subsequently put to death, in Nicomedia, on today's date in 303 CE, thus becoming a martyr. He was buried in Lydda in present-day Israel.
George's legend spread across Europe after his death, and he became a symbol of heroism for English kings, even though he never visited England. Starting around the ninth century, April 23 became a feast day in England. In the fourteenth century, crusaders spread George's dragon-slaying story, and they held him in such high esteem that King Edward III named him the patron saint of England in 1350 CE. Presently, he is also the patron saint of other countries, such as Portugal, Georgia, and Ethiopia, as well as of Aragon and Catalonia, two of Spain's autonomous communities.
Saint George's Day, which is known by similar names and as Slay a Dragon Day, on account of Saint George's legendary dragon-slaying, is observed today, on Saint George's death anniversary. Although, if April 23 falls between Palm Sunday and Easter, some observe it on the day after Easter or a week and a day after Easter. At the holiday's peak during the early fifteenth century, it was a national holiday in England. Feasts were quite common during that time. Once England and Scotland united in the eighteenth century, its influence began waning, and it is no longer a national holiday.
Saint George is believed to have had a red cross painted on his armor, and this red cross is now on a white background on the flag of England (not to be confused with the flag of the United Kingdom, the Union Jack). Celebration of the holiday further declined in the 1980s when the flag was adopted by far-right English nationalist groups. When Boris Johnson was Mayor of London, he urged residents to "reclaim" the flag and celebrate the day. Other politicians in England have campaigned for the day to once again become a national holiday.
English pubs and major English sporting organizations commonly mark the day in some way. Some English villages have fairs and pageants. Morris dancing, an English folk dance, is regularly performed. Punch and Judy shows are put on. The hymn "Jerusalem" is sung in churches and cathedrals. Other locations where Saint George is a patron saint also mark the day. For example, a celebration where men give red roses to women and women give books to men is held in Catalonia.
How to Observe Saint George's Day
Some ways you could observe the day include:
- Fly the flag of England.
- Eat some traditional English foods like roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, fish and chips, and Victoria sponge cake.
- Attend a Saint George's Day fair or pageant.
- Visit an English pub.
- Do some Morris dancing.
- Visit Saint George's tomb in Lydda.
- Read Saint George and the Dragon: A Martyr's Faith by Brent Colton, St. George: A Saint For All by Samantha Riches, or Saint George and the Dragon, a children's book by Margaret Hodges.