Commonwealth Day

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Commonwealth Day
Commonwealth Day 2014 (13059084565).jpg
Flags of the Commonwealth flying in Horse Guards, London; Monday, 10 March 2014
Observed by Commonwealth of Nations
Celebrations Multi-faith service in Westminster Abbey
Date Second Monday in March
2017 date March 13  (2017-03-13)
2018 date March 12  (2018-03-12)
2019 date March 11  (2019-03-11)
2020 date March 9  (2020-03-09)
Frequency annual
Related to Commonwealth Games (every four years)

Commonwealth Day, formerly Empire Day, is the annual celebration of the Commonwealth of Nations held on the second Monday in March.[1] It is marked by a multi-faith service in Westminster Abbey, normally attended by Queen Elizabeth II as Head of the Commonwealth along with the Commonwealth Secretary-General and Commonwealth High Commissioners in London.[2] The Queen delivers an address to the Commonwealth, which is broadcast throughout the world.[3]

Commonwealth Day is a public holiday in some parts of the Commonwealth, but not presently in Britain.[4]

History: Empire Day[edit]

The Assumption of Queen Victoria, 1901

The first Empire Day took place on 24 May 1902, celebrated prior to 1901 as the birthday of Queen Victoria, who died on 22 January 1901.[5] It was instituted in the United Kingdom in 1905 by Lord Meath, and extended throughout the countries of the Commonwealth; Empire Day was a “symbol of that unity of feeling . . . to those ideals of freedom, justice, and tolerance for which the British Empire [stood] throughout the world.”.[6]

Empire Day became a major event, involving, among other things, school parades and the BBC; in 1925, 90,000 people attended an Empire Day thanksgiving service held at Wembley Stadium as part of the British Empire Exhibition.[7]

The idea of a day that would “remind children that they formed part of the British Empire, and that they might think with others in lands across the sea, what it meant to be sons and daughters of such a glorious Empire”; and which apprised them that “The strength of the Empire depended upon them, and they must never forget it” was conceived earlier, in 1897.[5] In 1898, loyalist Canadian Clementina Trenholme introduced an Empire Day to Ontario schools, on the last school day before 24 May, Queen Victoria's birthday.[8] Empire Day or Victoria Day was celebrated in the Cape Colony before the Second Boer War and thereafter throughout the Union of South Africa.[9]

The British Empire League was instrumental in promoting Empire Day as a patriotic holiday.[10] Empire Day traversed class boundaries, and after World War I it retained "hegemonic potency by amalgamating the emerging traditions of sombre commemoration into the repertoire of imperial festivity".[11]

History: Commonwealth Day[edit]

In 1958, Harold Macmillan announced in Parliament the re-naming of Empire Day as Commonwealth Day.[12]

The Commonwealth and Britain have a shared history, cultural links, common legal systems and business practices.[13] Following a 1973 proposal by the Royal Commonwealth Society, the Commonwealth Secretariat selected the second Monday in March as the date on which Commonwealth Day is observed throughout all countries of the Commonwealth.[14]


Commonwealth Day is not a statutory holiday; rather it is a day of observance by approximately one billion people of their common bonds and the contribution of the Commonwealth of Nations to the creation of a harmonious global environment.[14]

United Kingdom[edit]

The Union Flag is flown from UK public buildings on the second Monday in March to mark Commonwealth Day.[15] In addition, the Scottish Parliament Building flies the Commonwealth flag.[16] The Queen and other members of the Royal family attend a special service at Westminster Abbey.[17]


Although Commonwealth Day is not observed as a public holiday in Australia, several regional public holidays coincide with this day: Canberra Day in the Australian Capital Territory, Labour Day in Victoria, Adelaide Cup Day in South Australia, and Eight-hour Day in Tasmania.[18] In 2006 Queen Elizabeth II delivered her Commonwealth Day address from St. Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia; this formed part of the lead-up to the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.[19]


Where two flagpoles are available, the Royal Union Flag - or Union Jack - is flown along with the Canadian national flag from sunrise to sunset at federal buildings, airports, military bases, and other establishments within Canada in order to mark Commonwealth day.[14] The 1964 parliamentary resolutions creating the Maple Leaf flag simultaneously retained the Royal Union Flag as an official symbol of Canada's membership in the Commonwealth, and allegiance to the Crown.[20]


Commonwealth Day is a public holiday in Gibraltar.[21]

Other Commonwealth countries[edit]

In Belize and The Bahamas, among other places, Commonwealth Day is marked officially in schools with special programmes and assemblies involving flag-raising ceremonies; the Queen's Commonwealth Day message is often read at such events.[22]

Before 1997, Commonwealth Day was a school holiday in Hong Kong.[23]

Commonwealth Day Themes[edit]

Year Theme
2017 A Peace-building Commonwealth
2016 An Inclusive Commonwealth
2015 A Young Commonwealth
2014 Team Commonwealth
2013 Opportunity through Enterprise
2012 Connecting Cultures
2011 Women as Agents of Change
2010 Science, Technology and Society
2009 Commonwealth@60 – Serving a New Generation
2008 The Environment, Our Future
2007 Respecting Difference, Promoting Understanding
2006 Health & Vitality
2005 Education – Creating Opportunity, Realising Potential
2004 Building a Commonwealth of Freedom
2003 Partners in Development
2002 Diversity
2001 A New Generation
2000 Sharing Knowledge – The Communications Challenge
1999 Music
1998 Sport Brings Us Together
1997 Talking to One Another
1996 Our Working Partnership
1995 Our Commonwealth Neighbourhood – Working Together for Tolerance and Understanding

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "Commonwealth Day". 2017. Retrieved 2 October 2017. 
  2. ^ "Commonwealth National Days". Westminster Abbey. 2017. Retrieved 2 October 2017. 
  3. ^ "Commonwealth Day". 2017. Retrieved 2 October 2017. 
  4. ^ "Commonwealth Day". 2017. Retrieved 2 October 2017. 
  5. ^ a b "Empire Day". Historic UK. 2006. Retrieved 2 October 2017. 
  6. ^ "Empire Day". Hansard. 1916. Retrieved 3 October 2017. 
  7. ^ Pitchford, Mark (2011). The Conservative Party and the Extreme Right 1945-1975. Vancouver: Manchester University Press. p. 82. ISBN 071908363X. 
  8. ^ "Commonwealth Day unites people around the world". Times Colonist. 2015. Retrieved 2 October 2017. 
  9. ^ Bickford-Smith, Vivian (2016). The Emergence of the South African Metropolis: Cities and Identities in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 70. ISBN 1107002931. 
  10. ^ "Empire? What empire?". The Daily Telegraph. 2004. Retrieved 2 October 2017. 
  11. ^ "Empire Day in Britain". The Historical Journal. 2006. Retrieved 3 October 2017. 
  12. ^ Blair, Alasdair (2014). Britain and the World since 1945. London: Routledge. p. 11. ISBN 1408248298. 
  13. ^ "Brexit will allow Britain to embrace the Commonwealth". The Daily Telegraph. 2016. Retrieved 9 October 2017. 
  14. ^ a b c "Commonwealth Day". Government of Canada. 2016. Retrieved 9 October 2017. 
  15. ^ "Commonwealth:Written question - 224329". 2015. Retrieved 9 October 2017. 
  16. ^ "Flag flying policy". Scottish parliament. n.d. Retrieved 9 October 2017. 
  17. ^ "Queen Elizabeth II: the most dutiful monarch in a thousand years". The Daily Telegraph. 2013. Retrieved 9 October 2017. 
  18. ^ "The Commonwealth: Shared past, bright future". Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 2015. Retrieved 9 October 2017. 
  19. ^ "Queen cheered at Australia celebration". The Yorkshire Post. 2006. Retrieved 9 October 2017. 
  20. ^ Igartua, José E. (2007). The Other Quiet Revolution: National Identities in English Canada, 1945-71. Vancouver: UBC Press. p. 181. ISBN 0774810912. 
  21. ^ "The rocky road to Spain". BBC News. 2002. Retrieved 9 October 2017. 
  22. ^ "It's Commonwealth Day: which countries are in the Commonwealth and what is the flag?". Metro. 2017. Retrieved 9 October 2017. 
  23. ^ "5 Things That Happened Because it is Commonwealth Day". BBC America. 2015. Retrieved 9 October 2017.