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(Redirected from Empire Day)
Commonwealth Day
Commonwealth Day
Flags of the Commonwealth flying in Horse Guards, London; Monday, 10 March 2014
Observed by Commonwealth of Nations
Date Second Monday in March
2019 date March 11
2020 date March 9
2021 date March 8
Celebrations Multi-faith service in Westminster Abbey
Related to Commonwealth Games (every four years)

Commonwealth Day, replacing the former Empire Day, is the annual celebration of the Commonwealth of Nations, often held on the second Monday in March. It is marked by an Anglican service in Westminster Abbey, normally attended by Queen Elizabeth II as Head of the Commonwealth along with the Commonwealth Secretary-General and Commonwealth High Commissioners in London. The Queen delivers an address to the Commonwealth, which is broadcast throughout the world.

Commonwealth Day is a public holiday in some parts of the Commonwealth, but not presently in Britain.

History

Empire Day

After the death of Queen Victoria on 22 January 1901, her birthday, 24 May, was celebrated from 24 May 1902 as Empire Day, though not officially recognised as an annual event until 1916. It was instituted in the United Kingdom in 1905 by Lord Meath, and extended throughout the countries of the Commonwealth; Empire Day was a "symbol of that unity of feeling . . . to those ideals of freedom, justice, and tolerance for which the British Empire [stood] throughout the world". Empire Day became a major event, involving, among other things, school parades and the BBC; in 1925, 90,000 people attended an Empire Day thanksgiving service held at Wembley Stadium as part of the British Empire Exhibition.

The idea of a day that would "remind children that they formed part of the British Empire, and that they might think with others in lands across the sea, what it meant to be sons and daughters of such a glorious Empire"; and which apprised them that "The strength of the Empire depended upon them, and they must never forget it" was conceived earlier, in 1897. In 1898, Canadian Clementina Trenholme introduced an Empire Day to Ontario schools, on the last school day before 24 May, Queen Victoria's birthday. Empire Day or Victoria Day was celebrated in the Cape Colony before the Second Boer War and thereafter throughout the Union of South Africa.

The British Empire League was instrumental in promoting Empire Day as a patriotic holiday. Empire Day traversed class boundaries, and after World War I it retained "hegemonic potency by amalgamating the emerging traditions of sombre commemoration into the repertoire of imperial festivity".

Commonwealth Day

In 1958, Harold Macmillan announced in Parliament the renaming of Empire Day as Commonwealth Day.

The Commonwealth and Britain have a shared history, cultural links, common legal systems and business practices. Following a 1973 proposal by the Royal Commonwealth Society, the Commonwealth Secretariat selected the second Monday in March as the date on which Commonwealth Day is observed throughout all countries of the Commonwealth.

Observance

Commonwealth Day is not a statutory holiday; rather it is a day of observance by approximately one billion people of their common bonds and the contribution of the Commonwealth of Nations to the creation of a harmonious global environment.

United Kingdom

The Union Flag is flown from UK public buildings on the second Monday in March to mark Commonwealth Day. In addition, the Scottish Parliament Building flies the Commonwealth flag. The Queen and other members of the Royal family attend a special service at Westminster Abbey. A wreath is laid at the Commonwealth Memorial Gates in London to remember the sacrifices of Commonwealth soldiers by the Commonwealth Secretary General. A number of other events, such as the Commonwealth Africa Summit, also take place around the United Kingdom.

Australia

Although Commonwealth Day is not observed as a public holiday in Australia and many other places, several regional public holidays coincide with this day: Canberra Day in the Australian Capital Territory, Labour Day in Victoria, Adelaide Cup Day in South Australia, and Eight-hour Day in Tasmania. In 2006 Queen Elizabeth II delivered her Commonwealth Day address from St. Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia; this formed part of the lead-up to the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

Canada

Where two flagpoles are available, the Royal Union Flag – or Union Jack – is flown along with the Canadian national flag from sunrise to sunset at federal buildings, airports, military bases, and other establishments within Canada in order to mark Commonwealth day. The 1964 parliamentary resolutions creating the Maple Leaf flag simultaneously retained the Royal Union Flag as an official symbol of Canada's membership in the Commonwealth, and allegiance to the Crown.

The original Empire Day date in May continues to be observed in Canada as Victoria Day.

Gibraltar

Commonwealth Day is a public holiday in Gibraltar.

Other Commonwealth countries

In Belize and The Bahamas, among other places, Commonwealth Day is marked officially in schools with special programmes and assemblies involving flag-raising ceremonies; the Queen's Commonwealth Day message is often read at such events. In Belize, Commonwealth Day is still celebrated on 24 May.

Before 1997, Commonwealth Day was a school holiday in Hong Kong.

Commonwealth Day Themes

Year Theme
1995 Our Commonwealth Neighbourhood – Working Together for Tolerance and Understanding
1996 Our Working Partnership
1997 Talking to One Another
1998 Sport Brings Us Together
1999 Music
2000 Sharing Knowledge – The Communications Challenge
2001 A New Generation
2002 Diversity
2003 Partners in Development
2004 Building a Commonwealth of Freedom
2005 Education – Creating Opportunity, Realising Potential
2006 Health & Vitality
2007 Respecting Difference, Promoting Understanding
2008 The Environment, Our Future
2009 Commonwealth@60 – Serving a New Generation
2010 Science, Technology and Society
2011 Women as Agents of Change
2012 Connecting Cultures
2013 Opportunity through Enterprise
2014 Team Commonwealth
2015 A Young Commonwealth
2016 An Inclusive Commonwealth
2017 A Peace-building Commonwealth
2018 Towards A Common Future
2019 A Connected Commonwealth
2020 Delivering a Common Future
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