What is Commonwealth Day?
Before Commonwealth Day, we had Empire Day.
Empire day was a celebration of what we used to call the British Empire- a group of countries that the United Kingdom ruled over until 1997.
Initially the Empire consisted of around 35 percent of the world’s surface including large parts of North America, Australia, Africa, and Asia.
Empire Day used to be celebrated every year on Queen Victoria’s birthday – May 24.
Instead of the Empire, we now have the Commonwealth of Nations, a political association of 54 members.
The members are mostly former territories of the British Empire.
Commonwealth Day celebrates this association, and there is a multi-faith service in Westminster Abbey, London.
The service is normally attended by the Queen, the Commonwealth Secretary General and High Commissioners.
The Queen – the head of the Commonwealth- makes a speech that is broadcast across the world.
A total of 16 Commonwealth states recognise the Queen as their monarch.
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When is Commonwealth Day?
The day is celebrated every year on the second Monday of March.
Commonwealth Day was originally a replacement for Empire day so fell on the same date, but was changed to the new date in 1974.
This year Commonwealth Day is on March 9.
Commonwealth Day is not a public holiday in Britain.
How can I celebrate Commonwealth Day?
Although more than 2.4 billion people are part of the Commonwealth, the day is observed rather than celebrated.
In recent years, there has been much debate about the point of the Commonwealth and whether or not it is relevant anymore.
Nevertheless, in the UK, you will spot the Union Flag on public buildings, and a wreath is placed at the Commonwealth Memorial Gates in London to remember the sacrifices of the Commonwealth soldiers.
The day is a public holiday in other countries, such as Gibraltar.
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Why is the Commonwealth controversial?
The idea of celebrating Britain’s colonial past doesn’t sit well with a lot of people.
Although today entry into the Commonwealth is up to member states, the British Empire saw nations being violently colonised by Britain.
A poll by YouGov found that only 44 percent of Brits were proud of the British Empire and the nation’s history of colonialism.
With all this considered, commonwealth day as a replacement of Empire Day is problematic.
The day is supposed to celebrate the ‘common bonds’ and ‘shared values’ of member states, but there are huge differences between the states in this respect.
For example, homosexuality is illegal in 34 of the member states, and male homosexuality is punishable by death in Brunei and Northern Nigeria.
The laws in these countries were mostly set by the British colonisers when the British Empire was in play.
It’s arguable the laws are in place due to the prejudices of these colonisers, something that Commonwealth opponents find taxing.
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