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DateOriginal Topic
24th May 2005Empire Day
By Julian Whybra
Just to wish everyone a Happy Empire Day!
24th May 2005Colin Fielding
And there was me thinking it was just my wedding anniversary today!
24th May 2005Michael Boyle
That explains the strange notation on my calender, my nephew thought it was in honour of the last Star Wars release! ( Actually we seem to be celebrating it in a rather fitting style in a couple of current topics here.)
24th May 2005Bill Harris Canada we call this "Victoria Day". It was VR's birthday of course, but has since become the official celebration of the reigning monarch's birthday as well.

Was "Empire Day" also created to mark Victoria's birthday?

Bill H.
24th May 2005Peter Ewart
I was discussing the approach of Empire Day with a work colleague yesterday and she consulted her diary, also finding that it was Victoria Day in Canada - but that was the 23rd, not the 24th, apparently. Was it shifted a day to create a public holiday long weekend, perhaps?

Interesting, Bill, that you perpetuate Victoria Day as the Queens' celebratory birthday. In the UK she has two birthdays, her (real) April birthday and her "official" one in June, when the Trooping the Colour ceremony takes place. I believe different Commonwealth countries mark various days for her "birthday".

Yes, 24th May certainly was the birthday of the "Great White Queen" - although Empire Day was not created until 1904, three years after her death, obviously marking her birthday. Until the last war, commemorations centred largely on the activities of the local schoolchildren in any community - marches, saluting the flag, singing, processions with Britannia at the head, involvement of the Mayor, etc etc., and a day off or half-day was always allowed. Surviving school log books are a rich source of information on Empire Day celebrations.

For some reason Empire Day must have been dropped after the war as I took part in no such thing in the 1950s - much to my mother's disgust (she took part dressed as Britannia, c1925!) I think a day known as Commonwealth Day was created (date?) but it was never particularly marked as far as I know.

Although Empire Day usually merited a half or full holiday for schoolchildren, I don't think it was ever a public holiday ("Bank Holiday" in UK). This is why it is so well remembered (and its date never forgotten) by those who were children between the wars. (I'm not suggesting Julian is that old...)

Makes you think, doesn't it? In this country, Empire Day, Commonwealth Day, either of the Queen's birthdays (with the exception of the armed forces and the national anthem on Radio 4), not to mention Trafalgar Day or Battle of Britain Day, nowadays pass by largely (or utterly) unmarked. The Celtic components of the UK quite rightly enjoy a drink on their respective national days (and the Jocks squeeze in extra one on Burnes night!) but it would appear the English are too reticent to mark anything resembling a "national day", and as for celebrating a "British national day" of some sort - well, that simply wouldn't do at all these days. (Might upset our masters in Brussels).

Even Bonfire Night/Guy Fawkes Day, a truly national day and the biggest day of the year in Sussex, God's county, appears to be under threat from politically correct metropolitan journalists. The bi-centenary of Trafalgar Day (quite rightly) is being especially marked this year, but I've heard nothing about the 400th anniversary of Guy Fawkes. Anyone in Sussex know if celebrations will be especially upbeat this year?

However, if the French and Dutch fail to do the business this weekend, we shall all have our chance to make a point later on and will have to treat the referendum as our "national day."

Perhaps it is true that we are a little too reserved? After all, even the Americans celebrate Ulundi Day for us.

25th May 2005Michael Boyle
And here all this time I'd thought Lord Chelmsford planned that day's activities in honour of the American missionaries!
26th May 2005Bill Harris
Hi Peter,

Thank you for your detailed response!

Re: the date of Victoria Day, the day itself is generally marked on calendars as May 24 (or at least it is on any calendar I own), but it is observed on the Monday preceding May 25.

Victoria Day became the Queen's "official" birthday in Canada only in the 1950s. Prior to that it had shifted around between the sovereign's real birthdays, other "official" birthdays, or whatever the British were otherwise doing. That was not seen as very practical, since the celebratory days changed from time to time (certainly more in the first half of the twentieth century than in the last), so in 1957 Parliament decided to make an existing holiday the Queen's official birthday celebration. The most obvious choice was Victoria Day.

Best regards,
Bill H.
26th May 2005Julian whybra
Yes, it was.
26th May 2005Peter Ewart
I wonder whether the decision in 1945 to grant independence to India in a couple of years was the main reason behind the giving up of Empire Day, as well as the contemporary feeling in some quarters that the notion of "Empire" might have had its day, particularly with the founding of the United Nations Charter.

27th May 2005AMB
One might say that had they suck with the Empire and ignored the UN, the World today would be a much safer place!

28th May 2005Steven Sass
Sorry, I've not been active in while (personal reasons, moving, etc.) but I have attempted to actively "lurk" when time allowed. The trend is similar in America, we no longer celebrate the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln but now have a combined and watered down "Presidents" Day. On any given day something may arise that unforutnately has almost lost the power to shock me. A while back there was a vehement call to remove the portraits of the Founding Fathers (Washington, Jefferson, etc.) from an official building in New York City on the grounds that they were immoral reprobates or something to that effect. (No comedians please, remember I am a certifed Anglofile with proper papers and pedigree). My point is I believe it can be dangerous to take all of this complacently and sometimes it's ok to shoot off our big mouths in favor of venerable cultural tradition. Luckily it seems there is still somewhat of the rebel spirit over here and it appears more good citizens are waking up to the shenanigans being perpetrated in Brussels and in the UN. Oddly enough, Columbus Day has survived relatively unscathed and one would think poor Christopher would rate as public enemy number one to those of "noble" (I must underscore that is meant to be sarcastic-sometimes such sentiment does not come across in print) intentions.

Regarding July 4th. Yes I do celebrate Ulundi Day. During our traditional family barbeque I insist the crowd remain silent and seated whilst I narrate a brief description (some have short attention spans) of the day. My family is by now used to my eccentricities and listen politely. I dare say some actually have learned from my diatribes.

One holiday I dearly hope never goes away is Boxing Day. I have nothing but respect for an entire country (and other particpating parts of the empire) that reserves an entire day for pugilistic activities.

Any way, Happy Empire Day and Hail Britannia!!!

All the best,

29th May 2005Steven Sass
Sorry, above should read "Anglophile" but with a bit of imagination and a big manilla envelope, I'm sure I could manage both. Either way it's better than being a Francoph(f)ile, right?!

29th May 2005Richard
May 24th was my parents wedding anniversary, 1946 and my dad was still in the Indian army.
As regards it being a holiday, the only place I know of that celebrates it in the UK is the Edinburgh area. In Edinburgh it is a public holiday called Victoria day, incidentally apart from christmas day and hogmanay Scotland doesnt have national holidays.
And as for the Queens "official" birthday does anywhere other than the UK and its colonies havea parade? And by colonies I mean places like Gibraltar and Bermuda not Canada and Australia.
30th May 2005Mike McCabe

Though we are sometimesdescribedc as Anglo-Saxons, it would be truer to consider our main formative influence to be Anglo-Norman. For centuries England, then (later) the United Kingdom, fought each other in bitter rivalry, and with utter ruthlessness. Yet, were it not for those periods when we had fought and collaborated togerther as Allies, we simply would not have the many advantages we now benefit from.
Similarly, the USA would have taken much longer to secure its independence had it not been for the assistance of France - before and after the demise of the French monarchy.

Being a francophile would simply recognise the inter-relationship between the UK and France, arguably the two most impressive culturesthat have shaped modern Europe.

2nd June 2005Steven Sass
Yikes Mike,

I assumed the ridiculous crack regarding the giant sized manilla envelope would have given away the fact I was commenting in jest. However whilst you speak the truth regarding Norman influence I do know some very serious, studious and sane people that look upon the results of Hastings and its aftermath as a great pollution of the culture that was evolving at that time in England.

And in the end did not the Saxons have their revenge? Although my English blood comes from me mum's side, (allegedly there's some Irish in there but it's kept hush hush--again only joking, remember the large manilla envelope?), my surname of Sass actually translates fairly literally in both German and Polish as "one from Saxony." From the family history I've done (and had done for me by some professor friends in Europe), the Sass name has a direct connection to the house of Wettin and at various times in the early 18th century the Electorate of Saxony also served as the King of Poland. As I am told, Augustus the Strong (his reign was intermittent from 1697-1733) and his son were Sass' although sometimes spelled with one "s"; usually one must weed through the host of other names and titles that were lavished on the royals to finally come across his base surname--and it also helps to be able to read German and Polish as much of the geneolgical research of the time exists mainly in those languages. Now before I barge (as would be the modus operandi of an American) across the Atlantic and start claiming castles, my ironic point is (of course without microscopic inspection of each and every family branch) that eventually it was the Saxon who came back to rule Britain---well excepting of course that when they changed their name from Wettin to Windsor, they became instantly British. I guess I can take comfort in the fact as that is the case I'm as British on my dad's side as Queen Victoria, although I guess that means we have to take Charles as well (joke, of course.)

So that all being said, feel free to be a Francophile, for the moment I'm going to be a Saxophile, which even you must admit is better than being an Americophile!! Now if you want to go on about impressive cultures........


5th June 2005Peter Ewart

Just returned from a week away and the long hour or so it has taken me to plough through the week's postings has been considerably lightened by your above contribitions, especially your accounts of Ulundi Day. As for Boxing Day, I have an old friend who now lives and works in the USA and can still remember his disgust when I asked him what Americans do on Boxing Day. ("They return to work!!!")

16th June 2005Peter Ewart
This posting's for Coll.

Did you know that your hero shared a birthday with his sovereign, the Great White Queen? No, nor did I until I re-read the biographical notes on him on this site a moment ago.

So next time we all think of Empire Day, we'll give a thought to you marking Durnford's birthday! A rather appropriate date, perhaps.


17th June 2005Coll

Thanks. Your posting above is very much appreciated.