Today, Her Majesty The Queen, accompanied by a number of members of the Royal Family, will attend the Commonwealth Day Act of Observance at Westminster Abbey.
Commonwealth Day, as it is popularly known, is a day of celebration of the Commonwealth Nations and the unity they share between them, despite their diversity. Commonwealth Day is celebrated on the second Monday of March each year. Coincidentally, this year it falls on the same day as the birthday of The Queen’s youngest son, Prince Edward.
The day is to be marked by a multi-faith Commonwealth Observance service at Westminster Abbey, which, alongside The Queen, will be attended by the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, and the Earl and Countess of Wessex. Also present at the event will be dignitaries and important members of the Commonwealth. After the commencement of the service, The Queen will deliver a speech, which will later be broadcast to all the Commonwealth Nations. This year’s speech will be written in accordance with the theme ‘Team Commonwealth’.
The Commonwealth, also known as the British Commonwealth or the Commonwealth of Nations, is an organistion of the countries that were once British Colonies, formed as a result of decolonisation. Consisting of 53 countries, the Commonwealth makes up a third of the world’s population. However, only 16 Commonwealth Nations recognise The Queen as their Head of State. These nations, including Australia, Canada and Jamaica, are known as the British Realms. The remaining members of the Commonwealth, such as India and South Africa, are republic states and are not a part of the British Empire.
The Head of Commonwealth is a position held by the British Monarch. The position was first created for Her Majesty’s father, King George VI, when India, after gaining independence from British rule, expressed its desire to remain a part of the Commonwealth of Nations. The Queen has a special flag which she uses in her role as the Head of Commonwealth. It features the letter E and a crown, surrounded by a chaplet of roses.
While the position is symbolic, and The Queen has no official role as the Head of Commonwealth, she, along with other seniors members of the Royal Family, often pay a visit to the Commonwealth Nations with the view of improving the UK’s relations with them. During her reign, Her Majesty has visited all the Commonwealth Nations, with the exception of Cameroon and Rwanda, which joined in 1995 and 2009 respectively. Just recently, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall visited India and Sri Lanka, and next month the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, along with Prince George, will be visiting Australia.
Commonwealth Day was first celebrated during the reign of Queen Victoria. It was initially known as Empire Day, a day of festivities and celebrations that gave people a chance to show their pride at being a part of the British Empire. However, after the end of colonisation and the formation of the British Commonwealth instead, the name was changed to Commonwealth Day.
Her Majesty attends the service held in honour of Commonwealth Day every year. This year’s service holds special significance, as 2014 marks 100 years since the start of the First World War.