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England celebrates St George's Day: What you need to know

St. George slays the dragon. Georgian fresco
St. George slays the dragon. Georgian fresco -
Wikipedia/Angel Lahoz
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It's Saint George's Day! To mark the occasion, Google released a doodle and English politicians took to social media. Confused?

Here's everything you need to know.

Who's Saint George?

St George was an early Christian martyr who died on April 23 in 303 AD.

Stories depict him as a Roman soldier who slew a dragon while rescuing a Libyan king's daughter. He was however tortured and ultimately killed in what was then known as Palestine during the Diocletianic Persecution — the most severe purge of Christians in the Roman Empire — when he refused to renounce his faith.

Legends about him started circulating in the 6th century and were likely boosted by returning knights during the Crusades. He is believed to have been recognised as England's patron saint by King Edward III in the 14th century.

Several other nations also adopted him as their protector such as Portugal and Spain. Countries including Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, and Serbia also celebrate him.

How is it celebrated?

Compared to its Irish counterpart — St Patrick's Day — St George's Day, also known as the Feast of St George, is really quite a subdued affair.

Revellers around the world toast Ireland's foremost patron saint by downing Guinness, donning green and watching parades. In both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, it is also a national holiday.

In contrast, St George's Day's celebrations, traditionally feasts, started waning in the 18th century. Nowadays, it is no longer a national holiday.

Still, authorities across England fly the national flag, called St George's Cross because it is inspired by the scarlet cross said to have been painted on St George's armour.

Some villages also still put on fairs, where the English folk Morris dance is performed, while some churches ring out the 'Jerusalem' hymn and pubs put on a themed day.

In London, the day is usually marked with festivities in Trafalgar Square.

What about Shakespeare?

St George's death also coincides with the birth and death of William Shakespeare, who is regarded as one of the greatest Britons to have ever lived.

Shakespeare's actual birthday is not known for certain, but he is recorded as having been baptised on April 26, 1564. At the time, baptisms were usually performed three days after birth.

If the date didn't tie them together enough, the playwright also mentioned St George in 'Henry V'. The Bard has the monarch rallying his troops ahead of the Battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years' War by saying:

"I see you standing like greyhounds in the slip,

Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:

Follow your spirit, and upon this charge

Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!"