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4 July, 2012

Happy 4th July to all the American bloggers/followers/friends. I trust you are all having a fine day’s holiday and celebrating your nation and your nationality, and quite right too.

It occurs to me that over here in Britain, we don’t get the chance to do that. The last time we gained independence was when the Romans left in 410 AD but i don’t think anyone wrote down the date. There were various migrations from other Europeans over the next 600 years or so, but these were really just movements of people, not acts of invasion or dominion. The last time we were invaded was 1066 by the Normans, and they never went away, so we never gained independence. There has been the odd skirmish here and there, most recently in 1940 when Hitler had a try, but noone has managed to land a boat or send over a battalion. I’m not boasting, I’m saying that there is no single date or event for us to rally round and commemorate Britishness.

Each of the four nations which make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (to give our constitutional entity its full name) has its own saint, and in descending order of celebratedness, St Patrick of Ireland, St David of Wales, St Andrew of Scotland and St George of England have their days. Paddy’s is a good excuse for a piss up, St David’s is a proud day for the Welsh, St Andrew’s comes third in scottish eyes behind Hogmanay and Burns’ Night, and St Georges barely gets a mention. Largely the Saints’ days are only really there to be trivia questions in pub quizzes.

So what do we have that marks a day for Britain? The only unique celebration we have is November the 5th, aka Guy Fawkes Night, aka Bonfire Night, aka Fireworks Night. A great excuse to drink lots, have a massive bonfire, launch fireworks drunkenly into the air and sometimes accidentally into the garage, and for the youth to let off bangers at all hours of the night for six weeks either side of the actual date. But given that it isn’t a public holiday, and the effigy-burning reeks nastily of anti-Catholic Orangery (the sort of sectarianist imagery which we criticise the Northern Irish for when they have their marching seasons), it’s not really a national day.

Every few years the Conservatives on the right propose that we celebrate Trafalgar Day when we beat the French and Spanish at sea, and get rid of May Day which is at a time when there are (they say) too many bank holidays in a short time.  But this is more to do with their distaste of May Day and it’s roots as a celebration of the working classes, combined with their smug undertone that we are separate from and superior to Europe, than a genuine expression of British pride.

Of course this year there was the Queen’s diamond jubilee, and we all got a day off. Last year Wills and Kate got married and the nation was allowed to skive off work. But do you see the connection? They were one-offs and they were about celebrating the royals, not their subjects (and yes, we are subjects not citizens). Even the national anthem is about God Saving the Queen and having her Long to Reign Over Us. This isn’t a dig at the royals (i’ll save that for another post) but surely the national anthem should glory the nation not its ruler?

So where does that leave us? Perhaps it is appropriate that Britain, the nation most recognised around the world as being polite and reserved, the nation that can’t even decide if it is called Britain, Great Britain, the British Isles or the UK (technically these are all different combinations of its various nations, but you know what i mean) doesn’t have a day. Maybe it is fitting that we just get on with it, tut, raise our eyebrows and have another cup of tea.


From → Blogging, Writing

  1. Great post – what worries me about Guy Fawkes night is that it is getting subsumed into Halloween… and i don’t mean the traditional English event complete with apple bobbing and party games, I mean the ghastly American import with trick or treat and ridiculous and expensive gimmicky stuff in every shop… (just prancing around on my hobby-horse here!)

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