Commonwealth Day

Commonwealth Day
Commonwealth Day
Observed by Commonwealth of Nations
Date Second Monday in March
Celebrations Multi-faith service in Westminster Abbey
Related to Commonwealth Games (every four years)

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 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. Also, 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.



Commonwealth Day 2009. Flags of members and the Commonwealth Flag are flown outside and on top of Westminster Abbey respectively.

Clementina Trenholme introduced Empire Day in Canadian schools, first in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1898, on the last school day before 24 May, Queen Victoria's birthday. It was celebrated more each year. A typical Empire Day in Hamilton schools occupied the entire day and included inspirational speeches by trustees and songs such as The Maple Leaf Forever and Just Before the Battle.[1] 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.[2]


There is no uniform observance of the day, worldwide.


In 2006 Elizabeth II delivered her Commonwealth Day address from St. Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, part of the lead-up to the Commonwealth Games that year in Melbourne.


In Canada, the only official recognition is a federal government stipulation that the Royal Union Flag be flown alongside Canada's flag at government installations nationwide, "where physical arrangements allow.... Physical arrangements means the existence of at least two flag poles".[3] The 1964 parliamentary resolutions creating the Maple Leaf flag also retained the Union Flag as an official symbol of Canada's membership in the Commonwealth, and allegiance to the Crown.[3]

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, the Union Flag is flown from public buildings on the second Monday in March to mark Commonwealth Day. The Scottish Parliament Building also flies the Commonwealth flag from the fourth flagpole.


Commonwealth Day is celebrated as a national holiday in Gibraltar.[4]

Other Commonwealth countries

In member states of the Commonwealth, Commonwealth Day is celebrated on the second Monday in March. In 2009, it was celebrated on 9 March. In some countries, such as Belize and In The Bahamas, a member of the Commonwealth since 1973, Commonwealth Day is marked officially in schools with special programmes and assemblies and flag-raising ceremonies. The Queen's Commonwealth Day message is often read at these events.

Other related holidays

Although Commonwealth Day is not widely known, many Commonwealth countries do have at least one public holiday that celebrates the sovereign's birthday—the day which inspired Commonwealth Day.

In Australia, New Zealand, Gibraltar and some other countries, there is a Queen's Birthday holiday. In addition, the second Monday in March is Canberra Day in the Australian Capital Territory; this is an unrelated holiday on the same day as Commonwealth Day to celebrate the naming of the Australian capital city.

In Canada and some parts of Scotland, particularly in Edinburgh and Dundee, the Monday on or before 24 May is a public holiday known as Victoria Day.

Commonwealth Day Themes

Year Theme
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

Commonwealth Day on stamps

In 1983 Commonwealth Day was commemorated by the postal administrations of the Commonwealth.

Stamps were issued by:

See also


  1. ^ Bailey, Thomas Melville (1991). Dictionary of Hamilton Biography (Vol II, 1876-1924). W.L. Griffin Ltd. 
  2. ^ Ministry of Canadian Heritage: Commonwealth Day
  3. ^ a b Dept. of Canadian Heritage: The UK Flag
  4. ^ "United Kingdom - Gibraltar". The Commonwealth Secretariat. Archived from the original on 2010-03-06. Retrieved 2010-03-06. 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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