Corbyn: ‘Make Saints’ Days public holidays’

National pride: The patron saints of the four nations of the United Kingdom.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has proposed four new bank holidays for Britain —one for each UK patron saint. Would these occasions strengthen patriotism and unity, or perhaps the opposite?

The Fourth of July in the USA is greeted with a feast of fireworks, barbecues and carnivals. On June 12th, Russia Day, soldiers parade through Moscow. St Patrick’s Day is a raucous celebration of Irishness around the world. All three days are full of displays of unabashed patriotism.

Yesterday was the feast day of St George, the patron saint of England. But many people greeted it with a shrug of the shoulders. Some did not even know it was St George’s Day at all. It is not a national holiday.

That would all change if Jeremy Corbyn became prime minister. He announced that Labour would give British workers a “a well-deserved break” by creating public holidays on St George’s Day, St David’s Day (March 1st, Wales), St Patrick’s Day (March 17th, Northern Ireland) and St Andrew’s Day (November 30th, Scotland). Corbyn said that his aim was to “unite our four nations”.

Perhaps St George’s Day is met with such muted celebrations because of the obscure origins of St George. Historians believe he was a Christian martyr from Cappadocia (now in Turkey) executed for disobeying the Roman emperor’s orders to persecute Christians. The legend of St George, clad in armour, slaying a dragon and rescuing a maiden, was a medieval invention, appearing in romance literature.

English people commonly take an ironic pride in their lack of patriotism. In a 2010 survey, English respondents on average rated their degree of patriotism at 5.8 out of ten — the lowest in Europe.

Robert Ford, a lecturer at Manchester University, believes that the reason the Irish, Welsh and Scottish celebrate their Saints’ Days more than the English is that they “reflect the assertion of an identity distinct from the dominant English identity. It is not clear whom the English define themselves against.”

Some English people also worry about the association of the St George’s cross flag with the far-right, and are therefore wary of celebrating the day.

Would these displays of overt patriotism be good for Britain?

Wrapped in the flag

Definitely, say some. National holidays are, by their very definition, unifying events, and celebrating St George’s Day and the like would remove much of patriotism’s lingering stigma. It is a fine idea to use one day to celebrate your country’s great achievements, and it would help rebuild understanding between different groups in a fractured country.

“No nationalism please, we’re British,” reply others. Historically, one of the great characteristics of Britain has been an aversion to chest-beating patriotism and the lack of success for more overtly nationalist political movements. You do not need to cover your house in flags to have affection for your country.

You Decide

  1. Do you support the proposal to make the four Saints’ Days national holidays?
  2. Is patriotism irrational? And does it matter if it is?

Activities

  1. Choose a new day to make a national holiday in your country. Write a short paragraph explaining your choice.
  2. Write a one-sentence definition of the word “patriotism”, and compare your interpretations with those of your classmates.

Some People Say...

“You say nationalism, I say patriotism.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
That Labour will implement four new bank holidays if it wins the upcoming general election. However, we know that this is unlikely to happen. The party is currently on course for its worst results since the second world war. We know that Britain is unusual for not having an official national holiday.
What do we not know?
Whether making the Saints’ Days national holidays would necessarily increase the general sense of patriotism among British people. It could be that people treat it as a day off without deeper consideration of St George’s Day itself.
What is believed?
That the English are less given to open displays of patriotism than many other Western countries. Some see this as a great benefit, while others wish that the British were more patriotic.

Word Watch

Russia Day
Marking the adoption of the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic — an act of constitutional reform in 1990 which proclaimed the democratic state of Russia after the break-up of the Soviet Union.
A well-deserved break
UK workers have the lowest number of public holidays in Western Europe. However, research also reveals that the UK has the most generous statutory holiday entitlement in Western Europe, if public holidays are included.
St George
When King Edward III founded the Order of the Garter, he placed it under St George’s patronage, after his returning crusaders said the saint had made a miraculous appearance and led them into battle at the siege of Antioch. At about the same time English soldiers were required to wear “a sign of Saint George” on their uniforms.
Survey
According to the survey, the Netherlands was the most patriotic country in Europe.

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