It’s England’s national day today, so happy St. George’s Day to all our readers in England. And, following the example of the Irish with their Saint Patrick, we also wish everyone else in the world a happy St. George’s Day. Sadly, today as on other national days in the past few decades, poor old George will be neglected. He doesn’t even warrant a public holiday in these parts. In the past this day was celebrated widely and, so I read, was once on par with Christmas as a festival.
Rival holy beings of these islands – Patrick, Andrew and Dewi Sant – are feted with some vigour and, particularly in the case of Patrick, he’s the subject of parades, shamrocks and suchlike. Nothing much seems to happen to celebrate the name day our very own Greek/Roman soldier who met a sticky end (as did most ancient saints) in CE 303. He, with his fabled dragon, was an early symbol of England – and of many other countries, incidentally, including Greece.
Strangely, our national day is also the official birthday of one of England’s most famous sons, William Shakespeare who was born in 1564. The exact date isn’t known, although he was baptised on April 26, and I suppose it is more than coincidence that April 23 was chosen for Shakespeare celebrations. He did indeed have a lot to say about England, from time to time. And, perhaps in these troubled COVID-19 days, we should remember his words:
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more… Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!
— Shakespeare, Henry V
Where George is Γιώργος
The Greeks are much better at it than the English of the 21st century. The Orthodox system of celebrating name days is one of the most endearing and practical of traditions. If you are Greek, you have the ideal opportunity to wish all your friends well and the instinct is baked into the national psyche.
Every George in Greece will today be feted by his friends and family. He will receive countless texts with the ubiquitous greeting “chronia polla” – χρόνια πολλά which is also used on other festive occasions – and will find his phone buzzing repeatedly with good wishes. It’s a day to look forward to, something special.
The reason is that it’s an easy day to remember. April 23 is St. George’s Day and everyone in Greece knows that instinctively. So it is essential to send greetings and good wishes to every George you know, even casual acquaintances. It’s much easier than trying to remember birthdays, for instance, and it is an occasion to be in touch with all the Georges in your life.
I rather like it and I think it should be adopted throughout the world. I get a shedload of chronia-pollas on St. Michael’s Day from all my Greek friends. They may not have a clue when I was born but know instinctively that good old Μιχάλη is just waiting in London for a raft of good wishes on his name day.
There is one big downside about today, though, if you happen to be both George (or Georgia) and Greek. Every Γιώργος in Hellas and Melbourne is expected to dig deep in his pockets and take all his close friends and family out to dinner. If he’s lucky, especially in smaller communities, the cost can be shared among all known Georges in a communal celebration.
In comparison, we in England are pretty bad at remembering our own patron saint. Every year, I get good wishes from William Fagan and others of Irish descent on St. Patrick’s Day, so why can’t we do the same for sidelined George?