St George's Day: Why isn't it a bank holiday?

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St George's Day: Fans of England dressed as Knights of St George outside Wembley Stadium
St George's Day is the annual celebration of England's patron saint (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

St George's Day will be marked across England on Saturday, 23 April.

The annual celebration of the country's patron saint – mythologised as a dragon-slaying knight – falls on the anniversary of his death in 303 AD.

But why is there no bank holiday in St George's honour, and who actually was he?

Why isn't St George's Day a bank holiday?

St George's Day was declared a national feast day and holiday in 1415, following England's victory at the Battle of Agincourt, a key battle in the Hundred Years' War.

The day took on less significance when England unified with Scotland in 1707 – leading to the creation of the UK – and is no longer marked as a national holiday.

In recent years, though, there have been calls for workers to given a day off to celebrate the occasion.

Labour's manifestos for the 2017 and 2019 general elections included a pledge to introduce four new UK bank holidays to mark the patron saints of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

ST AGNES, ENGLAND - JULY 21: Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall watch a performance of St George and the Dragon by pupils at St Agnes school as they continue their tour of the Scilly Isles, on July 21, 2015 in Isles of Scilly, United Kingdom. (Photo by Ben Birchall - WPA Pool /Getty Images)
Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall watch a performance of St George and the Dragon by school pupils. (Getty Images)

In a 2018 poll carried out by YouGov Omnibus, 49% of English respondents said St George's Day should be a bank holiday in England only, while 24% said it should be a bank holiday for the whole of UK.

If the proposal was to be adopted by the current government, it would have to be backed by the Queen – who must declare all new bank holidays by royal proclamation – and the devolved governments.

Who was St George – and was he even English?

The legend of St George paints him as a fearless English knight who slayed a dragon and rescued a princess from death.

But most historians believe he was actually a Roman soldier, not a knight, and he wasn't English – he is said to have born in Cappadocia, in modern-day Turkey, in the late third century.

He worked as a guard to Emperor Diocletian who, according to the BBC, ordered the systematic persecution of Christians.

George is thought to have been tortured and executed in Palestine in 303 AD after refusing to renounce his faith.

Upon his death, he became a Christian martyr and was canonised as a saint in 494 AD by Pope Gelasius.

An England supporter holds up a St George's cross flag as the atmosphere builds in the Flat Iron Square pub in London ahead of the match in Kaliningrad, where England and Belgium play to decide the winner of Group G in the Russia 2018 World Cup on June 28, 2018. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)
The St George's cross flag is popular with England football fans. (AFP via Getty Images)

As English Heritage notes, St George never even visited England, although "his reputation for virtue and holiness spread across Europe" and he became popular with English kings.

The now-iconic emblem of St George – a red cross on a white background – first appeared on banners during Edward I's reign, while Edward III owned a relic of George's blood.

The myth about his apparent dragon-slaying was popularised by The Golden Legend, a collection of stories about saints first published in the 13th century, turning him into an icon.

Outside of England, St George's Day is commemorated in countries including Portugal, Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Macedonia, the Palestinian territories and parts of Spain.

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