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The history of Commonwealth Day

Every year on the second Monday of March, Commonwealth Day (originally known as Empire Day) is celebrated. While the date has some official status in certain member states of the Commonwealth, observances are not specific to this particular day. In most countries, it’s not celebrated as a public holiday.

In the 1890s, the holiday was initially created and held on Queen Victoria’s birthday, 24 May, or the last weekday preceding it. The idea to observe one day every year as a public holiday throughout the British Empire was suggested by Thomas Robinson, the Royal Colonial Institute’s honorary secretary in Winnipeg, Canada in 1894 and then again in 1895.

In 1958, it was renamed Commonwealth Day and moved to its current day in 1977. 

While there is no uniform observance of the day worldwide, on the day, the Head of the Commonwealth issues a message. Past messages by The Late Queen Elizabeth II focused on the issues of importance to the Commonwealth and the impact it can have. In some member states, the message is augmented by an address from a member country’s leader. 

In London, flags of the member states are flown in Parliament Square and at Marlborough House on Commonwealth Day. An inter-denominational service is then led by the Head of the Commonwealth at Westminster Abbey. During the service, representatives of Commonwealth countries offer their flags for a blessing. A reception by the Commonwealth Secretary-General then follows as does a wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate the sacrifice of Commonwealth Soldiers at the Commonwealth Memorial Gates in London.

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About author

My name is Sydney Zatz and I am a University of Iowa graduate. I graduated with a degree in journalism and sports studies, and a minor in sport and recreation management. A highlight of my college career was getting the chance to study abroad in London and experiencing royal history firsthand. I have a passion for royals, royal history, and journalism, which led me to want to write for Royal Central.