Queen's Birthday

Queen's Birthday (Sovereign's Official Birthday, Trooping the Colour)

Type of Holiday: National
Date of Observation: Second Saturday in June
Where Celebrated: United Kingdom, Australia, Bermuda, Canada, and other countries with close ties to the UK
Symbols and Customs: Colours, Horse Guards Parade, Inspection, Royal Salute, Trooping the Colour
Colors: Red, which is the color of Queen Elizabeth's flag


The birthday of Queen Elizabeth II is a national holiday in the United Kingdom. National holidays can be defined as those commemorations that a nation's government has deemed important enough to warrant inclusion in the list of official public holidays. They tend to honor a person or event that has been critical in the development of the nation and its identity. Such people and events usually reflect values and traditions shared by a large portion of the citizenry.

Although the British have celebrated their sovereign's birthday for centuries, it was Queen Victoria, who ruled the British Empire from 1837 until 1901, who came up with the idea of an "official" birthday celebration. Her real birthday was May 24, but it was decided that a public celebration would be held in June. Edward VII (reigned 1901-10), whose birthday was in early November, decided to let the June celebration stand, and George V (reigned 1910-36), who was born on June 3, decided to use his real birthday for the national holiday. George VI (reigned 1936-52) was born in mid-December and Elizabeth (reigned 1952-present) was born on April 21-both times of year when the weather in England is notoriously unreliable. So it made sense to continue to observe the Sovereign's Official Birthday in June, at a time when the weather is more likely to cooperate. Because Queen Elizabeth II has reigned over England for such a long time-her coronation was on June 2, 1952-this day is commonly referred to as the Queen's Birthday. It is usually observed on the second Saturday in June, although the queen's other obligations occasionally necessitate moving it up or back a week.

The official birthday celebration is closely identified with the ceremony known as TROOPING THE COLOUR , an event that takes place on HORSE GUARDS PARADE in Whitehall, an area of London where many government offices are now located and where Whitehall Palace, the official residence of England's royal family in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, once stood. The queen is escorted from her home in Buckingham Palace by her Household Cavalry to the parade grounds, where she sits on horseback and carries out an INSPECTION of the Household Troops assembled there. The flag or COLOUR of a particular regiment (a different one is chosen each year) is then "trooped" or carried through the ranks where each and every soldier can see it. The troops then march or ride on horseback past the queen, after which she returns to Buckingham Palace. A ROYAL SALUTE of forty-one guns in London's Green Park brings the event to a close.



"Colours" is a British term for the regimental flags that were traditionally carried into battle and used to rally the soldiers and help them recognize the other members of the group they were fighting with. Although this is no longer done, the colour still symbolizes a regiment's spirit and is carried in parades as a memorial to its fallen soldiers.

The Queen's Colour is solid crimson. If she is present during the ceremony, her colour is carried through the ranks of her Household Troops, as is the colour of the particular regiment (Coldstream, Grenadier, Scots, Irish, or Welsh Guards) in residence in London at the time.

Horse Guards Parade

The Horse Guards Parade, where the Trooping of the Colour takes place in June, is London's largest open space. Built in 1745 to house the guards for the royal palace of Whitehall, it has also served a jousting ground and a tennis court. The Parade is entered through a low arch, where two sentries stand guard, and a number of government offices and the prime minister's Downing Street residence are located along the perimeter.


The queen's "inspection" of her assembled troops at Horse Guards Parade is more of a formality than an actual, soldier-by-soldier inspection. Since every soldier has already been inspected a number of times beforehand to make sure that his uniform is spotless and his equipment is clean and in perfect condition, the inspection is a symbolic way of letting the soldiers know that the queen acknowledges their presence.

Royal Salute

The Royal Salute-the firing of forty-one guns in London's Green Park-after the queen has returned to Buckingham Palace is a symbol of the people's respect for their sovereign. Gun salutes originated in the sixteenth century as a naval tradition: A warship entering a foreign port would demonstrate its peaceful intentions by emptying all of its guns first. By 1688 rules had been established regarding how many guns should be fired to show respect for an admiral (nineteen) and a member of the royal family (twenty-one)-the latter number being chosen because most naval ships at the time had ten guns on each side, and an extra shot would be fired as a signal to begin. The forty-one-gun Royal Salute represents two complete rounds from the gun deck of a ship plus the shot that serves as a starting signal.

Trooping the Colour

The ceremony known as Trooping the Colour has been part of the celebration of the king or queen's birthday since the mid-eighteenth century. Symbolizing the soldiers' loyalty to their sovereign, it consists of an intricate series of fast and slow marches and other parade maneuvers that take months of rehearsal to execute without error. The ceremony was originally known as "Lodging the Colour" because the flag that is carried past the troops was lodged or returned to the regiment's quarters afterward for safekeeping. The ceremony is accompanied by military music, typically drums and pipes, and it takes about an hour. The public is invited to watch dress rehearsals for the event, which take place on the two preceding Saturdays.

Trooping the regimental flag was at one time necessary so that new recruits would learn to recognize their flag and rally around it in the confusion of battle. Nowadays it serves a largely ceremonial purpose. Queen's Birthday


Dobler, Lavinia. National Holidays Around the World. New York: Fleet Press Corp., 1968. Dunkling, Leslie. A Dictionary of Days. New York: Facts on File, 1988. Trawicky, Bernard, and Ruth W. Gregory. Anniversaries and Holidays. 5th ed. Chicago: American Library Assocation, 2000. Van Straalen, Alice. The Book of Holidays Around the World. New York: Dutton, 1986.


British Monarchy's Official Web Site www.royal.gov.uk
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Queen's Birthday (Thailand)

August 12
Queen's Birthday is a nationwide celebration in Thailand of the birthday of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit (b. 1932). Throughout the country, buildings are decorated to honor the queen, but the most splendid are in Bangkok, where buildings and streets are brilliant with colored lights.
Government Public Relations Department
Rama VI Rd.
Soi 30
Bangkok, 10400 Thailand
66-2-618-2373; fax: 66-2-618-2358
AnnivHol-2000, p. 135

Celebrated in: Thailand

Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
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