St George's Day – 23rd April
St George is the patron saint of England; the English flag bears his symbol, a red cross, on a white background and the 23rd of April is his feast day!
But did you know that St George is revered worldwide as the patron saint of many other countries, regions and cities? Notably, Ethiopia, Greece, Lithuania, Palestine, Russia, Aragon, Beirut, Genoa and Moscow to name a few.
In addition, he is the patron saint of a number of diverse groups and organisations from scouting to people with skin diseases.
So, rather than being limited to England, St George's Day is actually a global celebration!
The Flexicover Team looks at some of the European celebrations.
A book and a rose - Catalonia, Spain
St George's Day ("La Diada de Sant Jordi") in Catalonia is also known as el Dia de la Rosa ("the Day of the Rose") or el Dia del Llibre ("the Day of the Book"). Like Valentine's Day, loved ones exchange gifts; men give women roses and women give men a book in celebration of "a rose for love and a book forever". Thousands of stands of roses and bookstalls are set up; by the end of the day, some four million roses and just under a million books will have been exchanged. Many bookstores and cafés host book readings (often Don Quixote whose author, Cervantes, died on 23rd of April 1616 per the Gregorian calendar). Adding to the atmosphere are street performers and musicians and the national dance of Catalonia, the sardana, is performed throughout the day in the Plaça Sant Jaume in Barcelona.
A truly traditional festa - Gozo, Malta
The third Sunday of July in Gozo is always festa day, its own St George's Day. The city of Victoria is packed with cheerful crowds flocking from surrounding villages or crossing over from the island of Malta. Gozo also celebrates St George on his proper feast day. Both the April and July celebrations are primarily religious festivities although they have different emphases. Where the April one is an exclusively devotional church celebration, the July festa is spread over several days of activities, cultural fare and feasts. And Gozo's summer St George's Day stretches to no less than three weeks! That's entertainment!
Fly the flag - Sofia, Bulgaria
Possibly one of the most celebrated days in the country, St George's Day ("Gergyovden") is a public holiday on 6th May each year. Bulgarian families will traditionally prepare and eat a whole lamb, believed to be connected to Slavic pagan sacrificial rites, which is fitting, as St George is also the patron saint of shepherds. He is unsurprisingly also patron of the military - in 1880 Prince Alexander decreed this day to be Bulgarian Army Day. In the capital, Sofia, parades take place showing off their military might and the best of the army's equipment.
George versus the dragon - Mons, Belgium
St George is honoured each year on Trinity Sunday (3rd June 2012) as part of the Ducasse de Mons (originally a religious festival to ward off plague) which is attended by thousands of people. In the heart of the city around lunchtime, St George does battle with the dragon in a re-enactment known as the Lumeçon. The dragon itself measures around 10 metres in length and is played by up to 46 actors. According to tradition, during the fight the crowd try to get a piece of the dragon (the end of his tail is covered with horsehair) and those that succeed in this challenge are said to receive a full year of luck!
The history of St George
Supposedly born in Israel to noble Christian parents from Cappadocia (in Turkey) and Palestine.
His actual date of birth is unknown but he is thought to have died on 23rd April 303CE and spent a large part of his adult life in or around Turkey and the eastern Mediterranean.
Believed to have been a Roman soldier who protested against the Romans' persecution of Christians and was imprisoned, tortured and beheaded at Nicomedia in northern Turkey for his Christian beliefs.
Richard the Lionheart adopted St George's emblem in the 12th century and his soldiers wore it on their tunics to avoid confusion in battle.
The heroic story of St George became popular in 1483, when it was published in a book called The Golden Legend.
In 1940, King George VI established the George Cross for valour and bravery as the highest such award that a civilian could earn. The silver cross depicts the saint slaying the dragon atop his mighty steed.
The Royal Society of Saint George was founded in United States in the 1770s by patriots loyal to the Crown of Great Britain and now has branches worldwide. Notables of the society have included Sir Winston Churchill, Viscount Montgomery, Rudyard Kipling, the Duke of Wellington and Lord Nelson with HRH Queen Elizabeth II being the society's patron.
Amongst the many patronages of St George are agricultural workers, archers, Bavaria in Germany, Corinthians (a Brazilian football team), equestrians, farmers, Greece, herpes, knights, lepers and leprosy, the Order of the Garter, Palestine, the Portuguese Army & Navy, saddle makers and Scouts.
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If you are travelling soon, have a great trip!