23 April 2010
St George’s Day comes early in a World Cup year: the real flags on pubs and cars and even fingernails won’t be out for another six weeks yet.
Red and white and knights and dragons are meant to distinguish England. On the islands, they still do. The other British nations all get saints who spread their faith in interesting, sometimes painful, ways. Over on the continent, St George’s paraphernalia is scattered across Europe like a mythological equivalent of those one in a hundred men who are supposed to be the scions of Genghis Khan.
Aragonese towns have pageants. Bulgarians take the day off and roast lamb, when the Orthodox calendar rolls St George around. One of the teams English clubs most often play in Champions League crunch matches has the same flag right up there in its coat of arms. The Catalans do it best. Men give women roses, and everyone gives books. The people of Liechtenstein play the same national anthem as the UK. That has nothing to do with St George’s Day, actually, but I find it strange, and I can’t imagine when I’ll have another chance to point it out on here.
St George’s legend comes from Cappadocia, no doubt with some half-remembered Perseus thrown in. What are we doing with it here? I suppose the answer is retrospectively contemporary: some people of whom a myth of common descent encourages us to conceive as ‘we’ went to war, didn’t really achieve what they had come for, and brought something unanticipated home.
I wish we’d got the books. Or even the roast lamb.