St. George's Day

St. George's Day (Georgemas)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Christian), National
Date of Observation: April 23 in England and the United States, February 25 in the Republic of Georgia
Where Celebrated: England, United States, Republic of Georgia
Symbols and Customs: Armor, Blessing of the Horses, Cross, Dragon, Green George, Lance
Colors: St. George's Day is associated with the colors scarlet and blue. Scarlet can be seen in the banner of the Church of England, which has a red cross on a white background in honor of the country's patron saint. It was also the custom in England on St. George's Day for men of fashion to wear a blue coat, perhaps in imitation of the blue mantle worn by the Knights of the Garter, the highest order of British knighthood. In the April 23 service held in St. Paul's Cathedral in London, members of the Order of St. Michael and St. George still dress in blue capes lined with scarlet.
Related Holidays: May Day, Parilia

ORIGINS

The patron saint of England, St. George is best known for slaying the vicious DRAG ON who had terrorized a village in Cappadocia, a country in Asia Minor that became a Roman province in 17 C . E . After demanding to be fed two sheep a day, the dragon started asking for human victims. Lots were drawn to determine who would be sacrificed, and eventually the lot fell to the king's daughter. Dressed as a bride, the princess was led to the dragon's lair. St. George, an officer in the Roman army, happened to be riding by at the time and, in the name of Christ, stopped to help the princess. Making the sign of the CROSS , he engaged in combat and finally succeeded in pinning the dragon to the ground with his LANCE and then slaying it with his sword. In another version of the legend, he made a leash out of the princess's sash and led the dragon back to the city like a pet dog. The king and all his people were so impressed by St. George's victory that they were converted to the Christian faith.

Most Romans were still pagan at this time, and Christians were routinely persecuted. After killing the dragon, St. George continued on his journey to Palestine. There he defied the Roman emperor Diocletian's decree outlawing Christianity, refusing to give up his faith. He was seized and tortured, and eventually beheaded on April 23 in the year 300 C . E . By the Middle Ages he had become the model for Christian soldiers and warriors everywhere. He was made the patron saint of England around 1344.

The basis of saint day remembrances-for St. George as well as other saints-is found in ancient Roman tradition. On the anniversary of a death, families would share a ritual meal at the grave site of an ancestor. This practice was adopted by Christians who began observing a ritual meal on the death anniversary of ancestors in the faith, especially martyrs. As a result, most Christian saint days are associated with the death of the saint. There are three important exceptions. John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus are honored on their nativities (birthdays). Many who suffered martyrdom are remembered on saint days in the calendars of several Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant sects.

St. George's Day, sometimes referred to as Georgemas, has been observed as a religious feast as well as a holiday since the thirteenth century. In the United States, St. George's Societies in Philadelphia; New York City; Charleston, South Carolina; and Baltimore, Maryland dedicated to charitable causes hold their annual dinners on April 23. In the former Soviet Union, St. George's Day is celebrated on February 25 as the national day of the Georgian Republic. In the Alps, shepherds pay special homage to St. George, probably because his feast day coincides with the time of year when they move their flocks up to mountain pastures (see PARILIA).

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Armor

St. George was a favorite subject among Renaissance artists. He is usually represented as a young knight in shining armor emblazoned with a red CROSS , riding on his horse. Armor is a symbol not only of chivalry but of the Christian faith as a safeguard against evil. In Ephesians 6:11-17, St. Paul says, "Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil … having on the breastplate of righteousness … the shield of faith … the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."

Blessing of the Horses

In Germany, St. George is the protector of horses and their riders. On April 23, in the villages of upper Bavaria, people bring their horses to church and the parish priest blesses the animals and their masters, sprinkling both with holy water. In the Swiss Canton of Valais, farmers lead their donkeys, mules, and horses to church on April 23 to be blessed, believing that the ceremony will protect their animals from disease and accident throughout the year. St. George's Day

In parts of Greece, St. George's Day is observed with games and horse races. The prize for the winner is often a saddle or harness. (See also ST. STEPHEN'S DAY.)

Cross

The cross known as St. George's Cross is the one that appears on the banner of the Church of England. The cross is red on a white background, in imitation of the red cross popularly shown on St. George's ARMOR .

In the former Soviet Union, this festival honors the patron of the Military Order of St. George's Cross. It is observed with special church services and reunions among military officers. Celebratory dinners are held for military men of all ranks.

Dragon

The dragon is an imaginary animal that combines characteristics from various other aggressive and dangerous animals, such as crocodiles, lions, and snakes. Found in the majority of the world's cultures, the dragon usually stands as a symbol of the primordial enemy who must be confronted in combat as a supreme test of one's power or faith. In Christianity, the dragon often symbolizes the devil or Satan. He is usually depicted as a devouring monster who destroys his victims in an attempt to get even with God for casting him out of heaven.

In stark contrast to Western ideas about the dragon, the Chinese dragon is a benign, good-natured creature symbolizing fertility and male vigor (see DRAGON BOATS under DOUBLE FIFTH).

Green George

The gypsies of Transylvania and Romania celebrate the festival of Green George on April 23. On the eve of St. George's Day, a young willow tree is cut down, set in the ground, and decorated with leaves and garlands. Pregnant women place a piece of their clothing under the tree and leave it there overnight. If they find a leaf lying on the garment the following morning, they know they will have an easy delivery. Sick and elderly people visit the tree as well, spitting on it and asking for a long life.

On the morning of St. George's Day, a young man dressed from head to toe in green leaves and blossoms appears. He is known as Green George, the human double of the willow tree. While the power of granting an easy delivery to pregnant women and vital energy to the sick and elderly belongs to the willow, Green George throws a few handfuls of grass to the farm animals so they won't lack fodder during the year. It is also Green George's responsibility to gain the favor of the water spirits. He does this by taking three iron nails and, after knocking them into the willow, pulling them out and throwing them into a running stream. Sometimes a puppet version of Green George is thrown into the stream as well. This is supposed to ensure the rain that will be needed to make the fields and meadows green in summer.

Like other tree spirits, the appearance of Green George in April is seen as necessary to the regeneration that is taking place in the natural world. His counterpart in England is known as Jack-in-the-Green (see MAY DAY).

Lance

According to the legend of St. George and the dragon, the saint pierced the dragon with his lance, which then broke, forcing him to kill the dragon with his sword. A symbol of war-in this case, the struggle between the Christian spirit and evil- the lance is considered an earthly weapon, in contrast to the spiritual implications of the sword. The broken lance is considered a symbol of St. George and also of the Passion, since it was a lance that was used to pierce the side of Jesus as he hung on the cross.

FURTHER READING

Brewster, H. Pomeroy. Saints and Festivals of the Christian Church. 1904. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Cirlot, J.E. A Dictionary of Symbols. New York: Philosophical Library, 1962. Dobler, Lavinia G. Customs and Holidays Around the World. New York: Fleet Pub. Corp., 1962. Ferguson, George. Signs and Symbols in Christian Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 1954. Frazer, Sir James G. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. New York: Macmillan, 1931. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Ickis, Marguerite. The Book of Festivals and Holidays the World Over. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1970. Leach, Maria, ed. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology & Leg- end. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984. Olderr, Steven. Symbolism: A Comprehensive Dictionary. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1986. Urlin, Ethel L. Festivals, Holy Days, and Saints' Days. 1915. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1992.

WEB SITE

VisitBritain www.enjoyengland.com/attractions/events/calendar/april/st-george.aspx St. George's Day

St. George’s Day

(pop culture)

St. George’s Day (April 24 or May 6, depending upon calendars) is a feast day on the calendar of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Romania, including Transylvania. It was usually the day when flocks of sheep were first driven to pasture from their winter home. In the novel Dracula, Jonathan Harker arrived in Bistritz on the eve of St. George’s Day and was told by a woman, “It is the eve of St. George’s Day. Do you know that to-night, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway?” The woman begged Harker to wait a day or two before leaving for his meeting with Dracula.

Emily Gerard, a major source of information used by Bram Stoker in researching Transylvania, noted that St. George’s Day was among the most important of the year, and one that had a number of occult associations. At midnight, the witches would gather for their sabbath and peasants would put up such barriers as hawthorn or garlic to protect their homes and stables against the witches. Many would sleep with their animals in an all-night vigil. Even more than All Saints Eve, St. George’s Day was thought to be the time of the most activity of the spirits of the dead.

Harry Senn recorded the story from Cluj (called by its German name, Klausen-burgh, in Dracula). One year, a cart wheel appeared in town on the eve of St. George’s Day. It was tied to the wall of a house. Two days later the wheel disappeared, and in its place hung a woman recognized as being from a neighboring village. She was soon identified as a witch (strigoaica).

Sources:

Gerard, Emily. The Land beyond the Forest. 2 vols. London: Will Blackwood & Sons, 1888.

Senn, Harry A. Were-Wolf and Vampire in Romania. New York: Columbia University Pres, 1982. 148 pp.

St. George's Day

April 23; November 23
Nothing much is known for certain about St. George, but the patron saint of England is popularly known in medieval legend for slaying a vicious dragon that was besieging a town in Cappadocia. After being fed two sheep a day, they became scarce and people had to be given instead—beginning with the king's daughter. She was on her way to the dragon's den to be sacrificed when she met St. George, who insisted on fighting the dragon and, according to another legend, eventually stunned it with his spear. Making a leash out of the princess's sash, he let her lead the monster back to the city like a pet dog. When the people saw what had happened, they were converted to Christianity. To this day, St. George is often depicted with a dragon.
St. George's Day, sometimes referred to as Georgemas, has been observed as a religious feast as well as a holiday since the 13th century. In the United States, there are St. George's societies in Philadelphia, New York City, Charleston, S.C., and Baltimore, Maryland, dedicated to charitable causes that hold annual dinners on this day.
St. George's Day is celebrated on November 23 as a national holiday in the Republic of Georgia. A festival is held at the cathedral of Mtskheta, the old capital and religious center of Georgia.
See also Georgiritt; Golden Chariot and Battle of the Lumecon, Procession of the; St. George's Day in Bulgaria; St. George's Day in Syria
CONTACTS:
Georgian Embassy
2209 Massachusetts Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
202-387-2390; fax: 202-387-0864
embassy.mfa.gov.ge
SOURCES:
AmerBkDays-2000, p. 308
BkDays-1864, vol. I, p. 539
BkFest-1937, pp. 58, 104, 169, 330
DaysCustFaith-1957, pp. 98, 287
DictDays-1988, pp. 46, 102
FestSaintDays-1915, p. 93
FestWestEur-1958, pp. 63, 231
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 299
OxYear-1999, p. 166

Celebrated in: Brazil, Bulgaria, Syria


St. George's Day (Bulgaria)
May 6
St. George's Day, or Gergiovden, is one of the most important celebrations in Bulgaria. It marks the start of the stock-breeding season. The sheep are turned out to graze on the eve of this day because the dew is believed to have curative powers. Special foods are served the following day, traditional songs are sung, and both livestock and their pens are decorated with blossoming willow twigs.
Traditional rural Bulgarian belief holds that someone who is born on this day is blessed with wisdom and beauty. In some areas a lamb is slaughtered, and the door sill is smeared with its blood to protect the house from witches, illness, and other forms of bad luck.
SOURCES:
AnnivHol-2000, p. 78
BkFest-1937, p. 71

Celebrated in: Bulgaria


St. George's Day (Syria) (Id Mar Jurjus)
April 23
In Syria, where he is known as Mar Jurjus, St. George is honored not only by Christians but by Muslims, who know him as al-Khidr and at one time identified him with the prophet Elijah. There are shrines dedicated to St. George throughout the country, and several monasteries mark sites where the saint is said to have revealed himself. One of the most important is the monastery at Humeira, near Tripoli, Syria, where both Christians and Muslims from all over Syria attend a folk festival each year on St. George's Day, April 23.
CONTACTS:
Embassy of Syria
2215 Wyoming Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
202-232-6313; fax: 202-234-9548
www.syrianembassy.us
SOURCES:
BkFest-1937, p. 330
BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 81

Celebrated in: Syria

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