A day off for St George is a very good idea

A man dressed as St George in Manchester (Getty)

Yesterday we celebrated St George, a day late, as his feast had been rerouted to Monday as this year the April 23 fell on a Sunday. If the Mr Corbyn is our next Prime Minister, we might actually be having a Bank Holiday on the feast next year. And not just for St George, but for Ss David, Patrick and Andrew as well, in all four nations of the United Kingdom. The idea is to celebrate our national days as a United Kingdom, and to give workers some hard earned free time.

This is one political idea that everyone should endorse. One objection is economic. Each public holiday comes at a price in lost productivity, though it must be said that such holidays also boost the leisure industry. Beyond the economic, there might be ideological objections. After all, these are Christian feasts. What about other religions? Though, as a Catholic, I have absolutely no objection to having a holiday for, let us say, Jewish New Year, Eid al-Fitr or Diwali. Why not? I strongly support a calendar that has meaning for all people. I had much rather have a day off on these days rather than the current spring and autumn bank holidays which are surely ripe for abolition. They may have made sense once, when we were a nation of farmers and factory workers, but hardly do so now.

Our secularist brethren, never reticent, may well have something to say on the matter. The trouble is, the contention that celebrating St George somehow infringes the rights of those who don’t want to join in such celebrations would be a hard one to prove. And when it comes to the calendar, our seven day week is in fact a Christian idea, as is Sunday as a day of rest. I have never heard any non-Christian object to that, at least not since the nuttier of the French Revolutionaries, led by the poet Fabre d’Eglantine, created a revolutionary calendar shorn of all Christian references. That experiment did not meet with universal approbation; neither did the earlier English Puritan attempt to abolish Christmas; one messes with calendars at one’s peril.

But would the celebration of St George, in all the countries of the UK too, be indulging that English nationalism that some fear? Why should it? After all, George himself, about whom little can be known, was not English. When he was alive, Britain was a Roman province of which he must have heard, and the Angles and Saxons were living in misty and wet northern Germany, no doubt longing to move to a green and pleasant land with better weather. Moreover, George is the patron of numerous other countries as well, and as such a good examplar of the international nature of Christian devotion.

His feast is also the day on which Shakespeare was born, and, with a pleasing symbolism, died. When one considers the growth of the English langauge, from a tribal dialect in northern Germany to a language now spoken all over the world, and when one remembers Shakespeare, its greatest exponent, typically English, yet belonging to all humanity, April 23 is as good a day as any to celebrate an England that is open to the rest of the world.