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Which is better: Norfolk Day - or St George’s Day?

PUBLISHED: 07:41 27 April 2018

David Sharman as St George for a previous year's St George's Day event at Downham Market. Picture: Archant library

David Sharman as St George for a previous year's St George's Day event at Downham Market. Picture: Archant library

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2016

Shoudl we celebrate St George’s Day or Norfolk Day? Both of course, says Nick Conrad.

St George may have slayed a dragon, but do the likes of ‘Norfolk Day’ knock the armour off our Patron Saint?

This week, as the predictable debate about celebrating St George’s Day started, our new county day was offered as a possible reason as to why there is such apathy about the national day. The argument was made on my BBC Radio Norfolk phone-in that we care more about county than country. Do we have a greater affinity with Norfolk than we do with the concept of nationhood?

No doubt the warm reception that greated the announcement of the inaugural Norfolk Day (July 27) is at odds with the apparent apathy for poor old St George. As a proud Englishman and Norfolkian this troubles me.

I think we should make much more of our national day, even if the Patron Saint doesn’t curry favour with the masses. Why are we so bad at celebrating our Englishness? You can’t go anywhere in the middle of March without knowing it’s St Patrick’s Day. British revellers galore descend on pubs and clubs decorated in the four-leaf-clover.

Yet our neglected national protagonist is routinely overlooked. Frankly, it helps that Guinness have a fantastic marketing department. If you take stout out of the equation I guess there wouldn’t be such a desire for Brits to identify as Irish for 24 hours.

I’d argue that nationalism too is often born out of oppression. Scotland, Wales and Ireland have historically felt the subjugated members of the Union, giving them a cohesion, even unity, against the English. History demonstrates that smaller, non-dominant nations who may be threatened by bigger neighbours have good reasons to promote and protect their own sense of identity. England has always been the bigger country and therefore, in the eyes of a few, the ‘common enemy’.

Any defensive and exclusionary stance is counterproductive; the openness of St Patrick’s Day, widely celebrated across the world, is a fantastic example. Inclusive and celebratory, the combination of national identity and fun is (often literally) an intoxicating mix. Unlike ‘British Pomp’, the day isn’t ‘formal or ‘staid,’ affording revellers the opportunity to ‘party in the name of patriotism’. It’s globally accessible and everyone wants to stand under the Irish tricolour.

So do we need to entirely cast away from our traditional National Knight? Is the story at all relevant any more? Not much is known about St George, except that he wasn’t (of course) an Englishman! Historians believe he was born in modern Turkey, into a noble Christian family in the third century, and followed in his father’s footsteps by joining the Roman army.

So how did he become England’s most famous foreigner? The story is convoluted. But in short, an English abbot learnt about the legendary dragon-slayer from a gossiping French bishop backed up by the historic account of a number of returning soldiers. Around 250 years later a monarch (Edward III) looking for inspiration for his fighting men seized upon the legend. He demanded that English soldiers were required to wear “a signe of Saint George” on their uniforms. And, as they say, the rest is history! But maybe that’s where it should stay?

My callers felt they understood Norfolk Day. It’s forward-thinking, easy to understand, accessible and clearly positive. Regretably they didn’t feel the same about St George’s Day.

Having killed the dragon, I hope St George’s next victim is any apathy or misappropriation of imagery which seems to stop the populace having a set day to celebration this fantastic nation.

I feel great loyalty to my county and my country and encourage any opportunity to celebrate, inclusively, this passion.

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