Commonwealth Day

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 HM 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. 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. Clementina Trenholme introduced Empire Day in Canadian schools, first in Dundas, Ontario in 1898, on the last school day before May 24th, Queen Victoria’s birthday. It was celebrated more widely throughout Canada each year. A typical Empire Day in Canadian schools occupied the entire day and included inspirational speeches by trustees and songs such as The Maple Leaf Forever and Just Before the Battle.

Empire Day was instituted in the United Kingdom in 1904 by Lord Meath, and extended throughout the countries of the Commonwealth. 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 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

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