In many parts of the world, people take patron saints’ days as seriously as the Finns take Vappu. Think drinking, feasting, dancing and all round merriment. If you’ve ever seen how the Irish go crazy on St. Patrick’s Day, you’ll know exactly what we mean.
Needless to say, when you’re a hotel named after St. George — thanks to our location on Yrjönkatu or George’s street — you want to celebrate your namesake’s day, which is on April 23rd. But how should we do it?
Who is St.George?
To find out, we met up with Garry Parker, Chairman of the British and Commonwealth Chamber of Commerce in Finland and supporter of the Royal Society of St. George, which is 125 years old this year.
- St. George is the patron saint of England, so when I was growing up in the 70s in Cambridgeshire all the churches used to fly flags, and we’d also eat traditional English food, Parker says.
St. George may be most popularly associated with the English, but the man, the legend and those who celebrate him are truly international.
Little is known about his life, but historians generally agree that he was a Cappadocian Greek born in AD 303 in Palestine. As a teenager, he joined the Roman army and was later sentenced to death for refusing to recant his Christian faith. Since the crusades, he’s been especially venerated as a military saint.
- In England, the cult of St. George has been recorded as far back as the 9th century. These days, we honour him not just on his own day, but also on anniversaries of the Battles of Waterloo and Trafalgar, and the Battle of Britain, says Parker.
- But he’s also often used to commemorate women, thanks to the legend of him saving a damsel in distress from the dragon. You’ll often find him mentioned in classic English literature, such as Shakespeare, too.
From roses and books to battle cries
Other parts of the world have different traditions.
St. George is the patron saint of Georgia, where he has two feast days and 365 Orthodox churches named after him. He’s also the patron saint of the Spanish autonomous communities of Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands.
In Catalonia, St. George's Day involves one of the most important traditions of the year: you give a present to your loved one, a red rose for women and a book for men.
In Bulgaria, families wash an entire lamb down with lots of wine and enjoy an army parade. In Portugal, St. George is so huge that the battle cry of the Portuguese navy is simply “St. George”.
Thanks to its colonial past, Brazil inherited the Portuguese enthusiasm. Not only has the country given St. George a dedicated national holiday, but he’s the patron saint of his very own football club, Corinthians of São Paulo.
In Russia, St. George has been Moscow’s patron saint since 1730, and his statues are dotted across the city.
A wealth of ways to join the party
- The more you research, the more you find people honour St. George in the most unexpected places,” says Parker. “And in lots and lots of different ways.”
Our namesake’s traditions and celebrations are as vibrant as they are varied. Clearly we have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to honouring him. However, we like to keep things beautifully simple.
So, for Finland’s first ever St. George’s Day celebration, we’re going to feast on fine bread, make merry with roses and stimulate our minds with good books.
Why not come along and join us.