How are nationalist traditions created at all?
Britain doesn’t have many public holidays. Only eight, including New Year’s Day and Christmas, are reserved as permanent public holidays (compared with other countries such as the United States and France, which have 10 and 14, respectively). Though St. Patrick’s Day is marked in Northern Ireland and Saint Andrew’s Day is held in Scotland, there are few U.K.-wide nationalist moments. Part of this is likely due to Britain not having a founding or independence day to commemorate (it being the country that most others were seeking independence from). But it also stems from British culture, which tends to steer clear of excessive and jubilant displays of national pride (outside of sports) like the Fourth of July in the U.S. or Bastille Day in France. This coyness around patriotic celebration is “an intrinsic part of being British,” former Prime Minister David Cameron observed more than a decade ago. “We are understated. We don’t do flags on the front lawn.”
A lot has changed since then, and Brexit has prompted Britons to fly more, not fewer, flags—be they British or European. But a surge in nationalist sentiment is insufficient on its own to create a new national holiday or tradition. In Britain, national public holidays are determined by legislation, though the public can put in requests for additional public holidays to commemorate cultural, historic, military, or religious occasions. The prospect of creating a new public holiday to mark Brexit has been floated in the past, but no formal plans have been announced. The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, which oversees the allocation of public holidays, could not confirm if any such requests had been made.
Of course, not all national holidays are born out of government declarations. Some of the most notable ones emerged slowly, after years of tradition and unofficial observance. Take Guy Fawkes Night, Britain’s annual commemoration of the failed 17th-century plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament with the country’s entire political establishment inside. Though not a formal holiday in Britain, it has nonetheless been observed every November 5 with fireworks and bonfires across the country. In the U.S., Columbus Day, which honors Christopher Columbus’s landfall in the New World, was observed by Italian Americans as a celebration of diversity long before it was formally adopted by the U.S. government as a federal holiday in 1934—more than four centuries after its namesake’s discovery took place.
Read: The misunderstood legacy of Guy Fawkes
Most nationalist holidays tend to be centered on events of national importance, with many simulating traditions and customs from the past. India’s annual Independence Day rituals, for example, follow the example of the first celebration that took place, on August 15, 1947. Then, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru marked the occasion by delivering a public address and unfurling the national flag at the historic Red Fort, in New Delhi—a practice that has been observed by successive prime ministers ever since.