Is St George's Day any closer to becoming a bank holiday?

Chris Parsons
News Editor
Thousands line the streets in Dublin last year on St Patrick's Day (PA)

David Cameron issued an empassioned plea today in support of St George's Day, urging us to celebrate 'everything it is to be English'.

His words may strike a chord with proud Anglophiles, but the Prime Minister also admitted that St George's Day has been overlooked as a feast day 'for too long'.

Compare the April 23 festivities to those of last month's St Patrick's Day, and it is hard to disagree.

Last month, tens of thousands of tourists and revelers descended on Dublin for the annual March 17 festivities.

The streets of the Irish capital were a sea of green for the four-day festival which was also celebrated in cities across the world.

In England, it's a different story. There will be some celebrations of our patron saint, but they will mostly be localised, low-key affairs, compared to the all-encompassing parties across the Irish Sea.

Just 40 per cent of people knew that St George's Day was on April 23, and a meagre 19 per cent of adults plan to celebrate the patron saint's day today.

So why has St Geroge's Day been 'overlooked'? And is it any close to becoming a bank holiday?

The Irish, along with the Welsh on St David's Day and the Scottish on St Andrew's Day, seem to have a different relationship with their patron saint than the English.

Further afield, Americans celebrate the Fourth of July, and the French have Bastille Day. Even countries like Brazil and Greece celebrate St George's Day more than we do.

Experts believe the English have an 'unusual anxiety' about the flag of St George.

The devolution debate in Scotland and Wales has given these countries a renewed affinity with their national identity which isn't as widespread as in England.

[On This Day: Canada adopts Maple Leaf flag after ditching Union Jack]

Meanwhile, groups like the English Defence League have 'toxified' the flag of St George in recent years and hijacked patriotic celebrations, according to British Future.

The think tank have previously stated: "England, the land of Shakespeare, seems uncertain how to find its modernity. It is ignoring England that now presents a greater threat to the Union than anything else."

Peter Mandler, Professor of Modern Cultural History at the University of Cambridge, believes the English simply don't share the same 'feelings of distinctiveness' as their Irish, Scottish and Welsh cousins.

He told Yahoo! News: "St Patrick's Day was diffused around the world by Irish emmigrants, and the process took place on a spectacular scale as the Irish made it part of their ethnic identity.

"The English don't have that same feeling of distinctiveness.

"Even when the English went to Australia and America they didn't feel like a minority, so they didn't feel the need to bring their culture with them and celebrate it."

Prof Mandler believes nationality is also deemed a less important part of our identity than, say, our locality or our family.

He added: "People feel much more attached to their own personal values, and don't like losing that to larger groups of any kind."

Hilary Benn, the Shadow Communities Secretary, wrote in the Daily Telegraph on St George's Day 2012 about 'celebrating Englishness'.

He said: "Each country should feel comfortable with celebrating its own identity while being part of a partnership from which we all derive benefit, security, mutual support, and greater influence in a changing world."

Business experts say there are also economic reasons why England doesn't celebrate St George's Day.

A day off for the nation has to be paid for by someone - and the likely cost to the taxpayer would run into the millions - or even billions.

The Centre for Economics and Business did research which concluded every extra day off costs the UK economy £2.3billion.

Conversely, part of the strength of St Patrick's Day comes from its commercial appeal - more than 20,000 UK pubs celebrate the Guinness-sponsored holiday, shifting an estimated 4 million pints of the famed Irish drink.

Graham Smith, who runs a campaign to make St George's Day a bank holiday, said it is commercialism which has made St Patrick's Day the success it is today.

Mr Smith said: "Guinness has backed St Patrick's Day since the 1970s by putting millions into supporting it.

"In this country, we have been programmed by the government to not feel patriotic, but people should realise it is OK to feel proud of the country you live in.

"What we have realised is that England on its own will not get a bank holiday, we are the last in the queue, so it is once Scotland gets independence and they make St Andrew's Day a bank holiday and the Welsh make St David's Day a bank holiday, the pressure will be too much not to make St George's Day a bank holiday."

British Future told Yahoo! St George's Day festivities do exist in England - they are just celebrated in an 'understated' way.

Rachael Jolley, editorial director at British Future, said: "We may not see the enormous parades that St Patrick's Day prompts, but that says something about England and the English. We like to be a bit understated. The kind of grand national day that the Americans indulge in for July 4th is not our way. We are mild, understated folk, who can on occasion like a bit of a party.

"This year expect more St George's Day events, but done in a very English way: gentle, un-coordinated and varying from pub quizzes to cake-making competitions, whatever they are they will feel distinctly English, and not a feeble imitation of somebody else's celebration."

Regardless of the strength of feeling behind a St Georges Day holiday, the government has yet to be persuaded.

A Department for Business spokesperson said: "The Government regularly receives requests to consider making changes to the pattern of bank holidays.

"We keep all these suggestions under consideration, however the number of permanent bank holidays in the UK is well established and there are no current plans to increase this."