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Last Updated: Friday, 23 April, 2004, 10:16 GMT 11:16 UK
If St George wants a party he can pay for it
By Duncan Walker
BBC News Online Magazine

The English bemoan the lack of time off work and a proper chance to get patriotic on their national day. But are they missing anything and who would pick up the bill anyway?

Americans celebrate 4 July with fireworks, the French mark Bastille Day in similar style and the Irish pay tribute to St Patrick with a pint or two of Guinness.

In contrast, most English people remember St George's Day with the traditional cry of "shouldn't we have proper celebrations as well?", before turning to more important topics - like house prices.

But could it be that the English are actually better off with only a few low-key events, and slightly sad-looking flags flown from the odd pub or white van?

A national day of celebrations, with all the lost working hours they bring and the need to lay on exciting events the tourists will talk about back home, doesn't come cheap.

If St George wants us to have a party in his honour he's going to have to find somebody to pay for it.

'No free lunch'

The case for more national holidays is clear according to Unison - the UK's biggest union - and St George's Day might as well be one of them.

It says: "In Britain everyone works too many hours - the longest in Europe - and we deserve the break."

St George
Should we have mock battles between George and the dragon?

But mention the idea of a new bank holiday to the bosses and enthusiasm for the idea is harder to find. Not least because they'll be the ones paying for it.

"We all like the idea of more time off," says the Confederation of British Industry. "But most people understand there is no such thing as a free lunch."

It says the cost of a national holiday is difficult to measure accurately, but it is safe to say it would run into tens of millions of pounds.

"Many firms may have to raise prices or cut costs to afford an extra bank holiday and it will ultimately be individuals that lose out," the CBI adds.

"In a fiercely competitive global economy we need to be ahead of other countries in attracting investment and generating jobs, not creating new ways to make the UK less competitive."

It also believes UK workers don't have much cause for complaint when it comes to holidays anyway - as most get five days more per year than the legal entitlement of 20.

'No funding'

As things stand, St George's Day celebrations are pretty thrifty affairs.

Barry Hamlin who runs the "St George's Day Events" website says a traditional dance event in London's Covent Garden on 23 April now has backing from the Mayor of London, but that as recently as February it appeared "there would be no funding at all".

Elsewhere things are even tighter - with pubs throwing their own parties and most other events organised on a local basis by DIY patriots reliant on their initiative and enthusiasm.

A proper national holiday with all the trimmings, from parades to fireworks and street parties, does not come cheap.

The celebrations that marked Millennium Eve, for example, cost taxpayers many millions of pounds.

In London 1m was spent on fireworks alone, with policing, street-cleaning and transport costing similarly huge sums.

Four million pints

As a model for how a patron's day should be celebrated, the events surrounding snake-scaring St Patrick are difficult to beat.

The interest is in St George's Day is there, but people are waiting for someone else to take the lead
Charles Wells

Irish ex-pat communities, particularly those in the US, have made his day synonymous with partying, whether that's down the pub or in a parade with tens of thousands of like-minded people.

In the UK, some 20,000 pubs took part in this years' Guinness-sponsored celebrations, with bars managing to sell some four million pints of the dark stuff.

It's been suggested that more than 200,000 Britons visit Ireland for St Patrick's Day, and millions of other foreign visitors have been prompted to make the trip to Ireland as a result.

It's difficult to believe anyone gets that excited about St George.

Shakespeare's birthday

But backers of a national holiday for England's patron saint suggest things are changing - and that he could do a similarly good job for the country he never visited, but which adopted him anyway.

For the first time ever, London is officially marking St George's Day this year - with 100,000 provided to back the Covent Garden dancing and a wreath-laying at the Cenotaph.

Man with face painted in England colours
Would you take part in St George's day celebrations?

The event has been linked-up with Shakespeare's birthday, also on 23 April, with free events at the Globe Theatre.

"It will be possible to gauge what will happen in future years based on this," a spokesman for the Mayor says. "We want something that people will enjoy and is financially viable."

While the mayor remains cautiously supportive, others are more vocal about their hopes for a fully-fledged St George's Day - right across the country.

Among them is the brewer, Charles Wells, which says English business would stand to make 38.8m from tourists and merry-makers. It says pubs alone would take 14m - making it one of the biggest days of the year.

It says: "The interest is in St George's Day is there, but people are waiting for someone else to take the lead."

Charles Wells claims four out of five people would celebrate if the government created a national holiday.

Mock battles

Advertisers also believe support is growing, and that St George's Day could indeed be sold to the cynical English.

Tom Sanders of advertising agency Grey London says the story of St George slaying a dragon is a classic tale of good versus evil - and everyone loves an underdog.

"I would bring the battle to life on the streets, pubs and parks of England, creating a mock battle and games between rival George and Dragon teams, to encourage England to choose who they want to root for.

"Of course, George would win, English superiority would be confirmed, and the Dragon would be killed... until next year."

Key ingredient

In England the success of St Patrick's Day, and more recently Australia Day, is accompanied by lashings of marketing. Yet both have another key ingredient - ex-pats.

The worldwide success of St Patrick's Day celebrations is based on events in the US, which were imported back to Ireland and then on to the UK.

"It's all to do with ex-pat communities," says Nick Bish of pub body the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers.

"We're absolutely in favour of a St George's Day holiday, but it would take an ex-pat community to provide the push and I can't think of one that's big enough."

So perhaps St George will have to put up with the English paying more attention to St Patrick - and the good craic he brings every March - than they do to him.


Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

Do we not remember the scenes of the triumphant England rugby team? Whatever the occasion, the English are always up for showing their national pride - and having a few beers while they're at it.
Gary Laybourne, England

Perhaps its more appropriate that the English celebrate St Patrick's day more fervently than St. George's day. St. Patrick was from England, not Ireland, after all.
James Savage, Stockholm, Sweden (ex UK)

Compared to Europe we are lagging behind in a major way with the feeble amount of public holidays we get. Talk about it costing England money is simply another excuse by businesses to keep the workers working.
Lucy Helen, England

The world does not need another example of divisive tribalism - this by so-called English patriots who probably drive German cars, eat American junk food and listen to Japanese stereos.
Nick Goodall, England

I've always thought it might be nice to go on a day trip to Dublin on St George's day and spend the time in a pub telling anyone who'll listen how much I miss home and how the Boddingtons doesn't taste as good as it does in England.
John, UK

I'm proud to be English (not British) and am wearing my cross of St George cufflinks today. How will I be celebrating tonight? With a glass or two of Italian wine!
Mike, England

I don't feel the need for a special day to make me proud of being an Englishman. We moan and complain about how bad this country is but most of us have a lifestyle beyond the dreams of many.
Nigel Hartley, England

St George is the patron of Catalunya too. Today is a bank holiday and we celebrate it by giving books and roses to our loved ones.
Enrique Llaudet, Catalunya

Combine St George's day with Shakespeare's birthday and make it a combined national holiday. That would allow many varied groups to come together and enjoy a totally English celebration.
Peter , England

I definitely think we should celebrate St George's day, and I do my bit by having an England flag prominently displayed on my desk at work and e-mailing everyone I know to wish them a happy St George's day.
Paula Stimson, England

I refuse to celebrate St Patrick's day, which should be re-named Guinness day, as most people who pop down their local for a few pints of the black stuff are neither Irish nor know what St Patrick's day is all about.
Lee Bradley, England

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