Sunday, 24 April 2016

Multicultural England and St George

Pic of girl, tethered red dragon with its keeper

Ordinarily St George’s Day passes in a puff of smoke. Does another nation that let its patron saint’s day pass with as little celebration as England? April 23rd 2016 was a little more special than usual, but that was down to the Shakespeare 400th anniversary celebrations, not St George.

My native city of Bristol apparently dropped St George’s Day celebrations altogether because the area is “too multicultural”. London is multicultural too - if anything even more so. Celebrations went ahead in Trafalgar Square.

Has London found the recipe to respect the ethnic and cultural backgrounds of all its citizens? 

Pic of demonstration cookery session with TV MasterChef
 East Londoner Nathalie Coleman, the 2013 TV MasterChef,
cooks her variation on Eton Mess with Rhubarb and Star Anise

I have already blogged about a number of the events in Trafalgar Square in the past year. I wasn’t able to attend every cultural event, but am aware that I missed a number. London celebrated Eid, Diwali, Holi Festival of Colours, Vaisakhi and Chinese New Year.

In December, a Jewish Menorah stood in Trafalgar Square for Hanukah alongside the traditional Christmas tree. The enthusiastic Irish celebrations of St Patrick’s Day feature in a previous blog. I have also written about Brazil and French Bastille Days.

At Easter, I watched a Passion Play in Trafalgar Square. This was the result of months of hard work by enthusiastic volunteers. The story of Jesus is a powerful one, even if you do not share the Christian faith.

Just before Easter my car had to have its MOT. I was mightily relieved when it did not cost me the anticipated “fortune”. As the keys were returned to me, I wished my mechanic a Happy Easter. Noting his Sikh turban, I quickly added the word “break”. I didn’t wish to offend. No offence was seemingly taken as he walked away smiling. It was a Bank Holiday for both of us after all.

Later I looked up Sikh traditions. I noted that Sikhs worship one God, have rejected the caste system, believe in living honestly and working hard. They also believe in being generous to those less fortunate than themselves. Much in common therefore.

My children have learnt all about different cultures and their celebrations at school. At Primary School, they learnt about the Swedish festival of light, Eid, Diwali lamps, the Nativity, Chinese New Year, Hanukah, Buddhism, Easter rabbits, St Nicholas, etc. They enjoyed hearing all the stories related to other faiths and celebrating the festivals important to other children in their classes.

Adopting another culture’s customs is nothing new. At Christmas, I wrote how Christmas trees came to us via Germany - although other countries claim the tradition too. I wrote about Austrian Kipferl and how other nations claim the recipe. I looked at the origins of Easter and discovered many Pagan and Jewish Passover connections.

You don’t need to go too far back in British history to see how religious beliefs tore our nation apart. The wounds of religious wars took generations to heal. 

Red and white stall, and fountain with modest crowd in Trafalgar Square
St George's Day 2016 in Trafalgar Square

Today, England is a tolerant nation. The past shows us that we should absorb rather than drop our own beliefs and celebrations.  Ignorance and fear hamper multicultural integration. Sharing our different cultural traditions and celebrations is an important part of understanding. When we understand better, the beliefs don’t seem so different underneath.