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How Erstwhile Empire Day Became Commonwealth Day: History, Theme and Significance

(Image: Shutterstock)

(Image: Shutterstock)

Also known as the Empire Day, the Commonwealth Day commemorates the formation of the British Empire in India and other colonies of Britain. This year the theme is: Delivering a Common Future

The Commonwealth Day is celebrated on the second Monday in the month of March every year. However, in India another Commonwealth Day is also celebrated on May 24. Also known as the Empire Day, the Commonwealth Day commemorates the formation of the British Empire in India and other colonies of Britain.

It was not until after the death of Queen Victoria, who passed away on January 22, 1901 that Empire Day was first celebrated. The first Empire Day was celebrated on May 24, 1902 which was the Queen’s birthday. Many schools across the British Empire were celebrating it even before it was officially recognised as an annual event.

It was only in 1916 that Empire Day was an official annual event. According to Historic UK, a New Zealand school journal from 1910 had mentioned the Empire Day celebration. The journal mentioned how the Union Jack was unfurled to celebrate the occasion.

During the British colonial period, school children from across the British Empire would salute the union flag and sing patriotic songs like Jerusalem and God Save the Queen. Children were also told inspirational speeches and listened to tales of bravery from across the Empire.

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The stories included the first British Governor of the Bengal Presidency Robert Clive from India, James Wolfe of British Army who conquered Canada’s Québec region after fighting the French occupiers. Historic UK also mentions that schoolchildren were let out of school early so that they can take part in several marches, maypole dances, concerts, and parties that celebrated the event.

However, as the British colonies faced decline post World War II. Britain’s relationship with the Commonwealth countries that formed the Empire had also changed, as they began to celebrate their own identity and idea of nationalism. Empire Day was then changed to Commonwealth Day as the British empire fell apart.

The date of Commonwealth Day was changed to June 10, to match with the official birthday of the present Queen Elizabeth II. However, it was again changed in 1977 to the second Monday in March, when each year The Queen sends a special message to the youth of the Empire or the various countries of the Commonwealth.

Theme

This year the theme for Commonwealth Day is: Delivering a Common Future. The aim of this theme is to highlight how the 54 Commonwealth countries are innovating, connecting and transforming to help achieve essential goals like tackling climate change, promoting good governance, achieving gender equality.

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