Monday, March 06, 2006

St George's Day

There is a campaign to make St George's Day a national holiday in England. I think it's a good idea, as long as it's not an excuse for gung-ho patriotism or even racism. I certainly don't believe in "my country right or wrong". But I do think there is a specifically English identity (fair play, politeness, democracy, equality and so on) that is worth celebrating. I realise other peoples also cultivate these qualities, but the combination of values that we cherish is part of our identity - even if we don't always succeed in living up to them. Having St George's Day as a public holiday might even bring the celebration of Englishness into the mainstream and prevent racists from hijacking it. It will also be an excuse for lots of morris-dancing and mumming and other traditional English pastimes. (Oh no, not more cricket....) Though let's hope that the definition of Englishness will not be exclusive, but include everyone who lives here.

It's ironic that our patron saint is from Cappadocia, but as he is a Christianised version of an ancient Pagan god of light and fertility, he's alright by me! And as St George's Day is Shakespeare's birthday, we could make it a festival of literature as well.


Joe said...

Just to show I am not a Celtic Fundamentalist, happy St George's Day to you (although if he persists in attacking dragons I will report the bounder; dragons are an endangered species you know).

Similar moves afoot to have St Andrew's Day made into a public holiday here in Scotland. It would be nice to see it marked with more celebration - half the people I meet that day don't even know that it is St Andrew's Day... It would be good to see our culture and history advanced (preferably without dissolving into blaming England for everything). Americans and Norwegians and the French have big national days, I wonder why we don't?

The Silver Eel said...

I'd really like to see a wider celebration of St George's Day in England, among other reasons, to liberate the flag from its near-exclusive association with football, and to disassociate the Union flag from being "English", and thus to kill for once and all the notion that any territory it flies over is English property. Much healthier for everyone, and moreover, why not?

The question of an English identity is a troublesome one, though. There are huge cultural divides between the north and south of the country; and what heritage do you draw on? British, Anglo-Saxon, Danish, Norman...? Alan Garner and, I think, Ted Hughes, have written about a psychological schism taking place around the time of the Henrician Reformation, of England cutting itself off from its imaginative roots. Deep water, which I don't dare, mindful of fishing rights and my own ignorance, to plumb - but the notion's interesting.

Joe said...

It would be nice to re-appropriate the Union Jack from the racist numpties, although I have a rather different relationship to it, probably because as a Scot I tend to associate more negative connotations to it since it represents something which was imposed upon Scotland, the union largely coming about through bullying, dirty tricks and outright bribery.

So I dislike seeing the UJ flying over Edinburgh Castle for example and would rather see a Saltire. I don't see it as a flag of occupation or exclusively English or anything so dramatic, but it does represent a denial of self determination which the Westminister parliament has never acknowledged. Actually now I think about it I'd rather see a big picture of a fluffy kitten on a banner than a national emblem of any type :-). Disliking the UJ is wonderfully ironic for a Scot though since it was a Stewart king who first mooted the idea!

Yvonne said...

I personally would like to replace the flag of England with a picture of the Uffington White Horse, as I tend to associate the red cross on a white background with the crusades.

I like the idea of a fluffy kitten flag. And I'd like to replace the Union flag with a big rainbow to represent diversity (I know it's already been used for gay pride, but that would be really cool, as then the racist idiots, who are usually also homophobic, would refuse to associate with it).

There doesn't have to be a single English identity any more than there is a single Scottish identity (compare Highlands versus Lowlands, Scottii versus Picts, etc.) Interesting idea that it may have been the Reformation that destroyed the English sense of identity though.

And a happy St Andrew's Day to you.

The Silver Eel said...

Well, no, and there's no reason why there should be one. Nevertheless - and I admit this is totally subjective, and probably unprovable - I get the feeling that there is a greater sense of national unity in Scotland than there is in England, partly for reasons of size. Would it be entirely wrong to suggest adherence to a notion of "England" has been a class issue, historically, managed by Oxbridge dons and Whitehall mandarins and similar officers, and pretty far removed from working-class experience, particularly in the north? In other words, I'm suggesting the unitary idea of England, Queen and country and all that, is one which has been imposed to an extent. Not that that makes it any less powerful. A study of popular patriotism at the outbreak of WWI might be interesting, and one sees the residue of it at the last night of the Proms.

I get the impression that Scotland has only recently, post-devolution, begun to pay attention to regional variations, especially in dialect, on a regular basis. That's not to say they weren't there before, obviously, but they've become more political.

I like the idea of the Uffington horse.

Garner's comment was pretty much an aside, but such a suggestive one that I wish he'd developed it. I can only guess he saw the Reformation as a destructive force, cutting the people off from their roots and placing control in the hands of central authority, with a one-size ideology. That's certainly one of the strands in Thursbitch, and it chimes with the Kirk's attitude to popular religion in Scotland (censuring people for visiting clootie wells, for instance).

Yvonne said...

To be honest I think one's definition of what it means to be English differs according to class.

And people tend to adhere to their region first, and then to England. For example I am a Hampshire Hog, more broadly from Wessex, and then for England. For me, exemplars of Englishness are the Pre-Raphaelites, the Diggers, the Levellers, the Arts and Crafts movement, John Clare, Gilbert White, Francis Kilvert, and every radical and eccentric ever born this side of the border. For John Major, it's cricket, warm beer, and old ladies cycling to church. For a Northerner, it's probably parkin (cake), flat caps, ferrets, and so on. But I suppose if you had to define Englishness without reference to culture, it would be the nexus of unease and diffidence described in Kate Fox's hilarious and insightful book, Watching the English: politeness, embarrassment, sense of fair play, etc.