Origin of this Holiday
Commonwealth Day is the annual celebration of the Commonwealth of Nations held on the second Monday in March, and marked by a multi-faith service in Westminster Abbey, normally attended by Queen Elizabeth II, Head of the Commonwealth, with the Commonwealth Secretary-General and Commonwealth High Commissioners in London. The Queen delivers an address to the Commonwealth, broadcast throughout the world. Also, in the year before the quadrennial Commonwealth Games, the Queen starts the Queen's Baton Relay on Commonwealth Day at Buckingham Palace, handing the baton to the first relay runner to start a journey that will end at the Opening Ceremony of the upcoming Games.
While it has a certain official status, Commonwealth Day is not a public holiday in most Commonwealth countries and there is little public awareness of it.s
Clementina Trenholme introduced Empire Day in Canadian schools, first in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1898, on the last school day before 24 May, Queen Victoria's birthday. It was celebrated more each year and then instituted in the United Kingdom in 1904 by Lord Meath. A typical Empire Day in Hamilton schools occupied the entire day and included inspirational speeches by trustees and songs such as The Maple Leaf Forever and Just Before the Battle.
After the death in 1901 of Queen Victoria, her birthday, 24 May, was made an annual commemoration under the name Empire Day. This day was celebrated by lighting fireworks in back-gardens or attending community bonfires. It gave the Queen's people a chance to show their pride in being part of the British Empire.
In 1958 Empire Day was renamed Commonwealth Day, in accordance with the new post-colonial relationship between the nations of the former empire.
The National Council in Canada of the Royal Commonwealth Society expressed in a 1973 letter to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau that Commonwealth Day should be observed on the same day throughout all countries of the Commonwealth. They asked that this notion be included on the agenda of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to be held in Ottawa that year. The item eventually appeared on the agenda of the 1975 meeting, and it was agreed that the Commonwealth Secretariat select a date, preferably one without previous historical connotations. At the meeting of officials in Canberra in 1976, the Canadian proposal of the second Monday in March was adopted.
There is no uniform observance of the day, worldwide.
In 2006 Queen Elizabeth II delivered her Commonwealth Day address from St. Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney, NSW, Australia, part of the lead-up to the Commonwealth Games that year in Melbourne.
In Canada, the only official recognition is a federal government stipulation that the Royal Union Flag be flown alongside Canada's flag at government installations nationwide, "where physical arrangements allow.... Physical arrangements means the existence of at least two flag poles." The 1964 Act creating the Maple Leaf flag also retained the Union Flag as an official symbol of Canada's membership in the Commonwealth, and allegiance to the Crown.
In the United Kingdom, the Union Flag is flown from public buildings on the second Monday in March to mark Commonwealth Day. The Scottish Parliament Building also flies the Commonwealth flag from the fourth flagpole.
Other Commonwealth countries
In member states of the Commonwealth, Commonwealth Day is celebrated on the second Monday in March. In 2009, it was celebrated on 9 March. In some countries, such as Belize and In The Bahamas, a member of the Commonwealth since 1973, Commonwealth Day is marked officially in schools with special programmes and assemblies and flag raising ceremonies. The Queen's Commonwealth Day message is often read at these events.
Other related holidays
Although Commonwealth Day is not widely known, many Commonwealth countries do have at least one public holiday that celebrates the sovereign's birthday—the day which inspired Commonwealth Day.
In Australia, New Zealand, Gibraltar and some other countries, there is a Queen's Birthday holiday.
In Canada and some parts of Scotland, particularly in Edinburgh and Dundee, the Monday on or before May 24 is a public holiday known as Victoria Day.
Unrelated "Commonwealth Days"
In the Northern Mariana Islands a holiday called Commonwealth Day is celebrated on January 8th. This is nothing to do with the historic British "Empire Day" but it commemorates the Islands' elevation from territorial to commonwealth status, in context of its relationship to the United States. In American government, "commonwealth" is a status between "territory" and "state" (though there are four U.S. states which call themselves "Commonwealth of [Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia]"), with the distinction that a commonwealth can still opt to become an independent nation whereas a state is a sovereign entity within the American confederacy.
- Ontario Empire Day Celebrations - Archives of Ontario
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