UNITED STATES—Elizabeth, the princess, was born on April 21st. This is the date that Queen Elizabeth II will turn 94 years old. However, the Queen’s birthday is also celebrated in June, when she parades through London and there is a Trooping of the Colour.
Her actual birthday is celebrated by a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, 21 guns in Windsor Great Park and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London. Despite this explosion of gunpowder, much of Queen Elizabeth’s actual birthday is spent quite quietly. The “Official birthday” of the monarch is different, as there are parades and fetes and public celebrations.
Queen Elizabeth was not the only British monarch to be given two birthdays. While one is the day she was born, April, the other is in a later month which is warmer. April would be way too cold for the parade and other celebrations.
King George II was the first king in 1748 to be given two birthdays. He was born in a fairly cold November and so didn’t want the cold disrupting his subjects’ outward show of celebration for his birthday. Therefore, he made the decision to combine these celebrations with the annual show of the armed forces through London in his honor.
The Trooping of the Color has been a part of British culture since the 1600s. Therefore, King George was making a decision that would change a tradition that had existed for almost a century by this point. When it was first introduced it was meant as a purely military event. The display of the flags of the different regiments, which are also known as colors, was a way to celebrate the honor and courage of the forces of the nation.
While it might seem like an imposition by the monarch on a military affair, King George was himself an impressive and much decorated general. He led troops in the Battle of Dettingen in 1743. Therefore, it is not surprising he chose a military event to use to celebrate his birthday in the warmer weather of June.
It wasn’t until Edward VII came to the throne that this dual birthday was made a standard for traditions going forward. Edward was also born in November. He thought that a review of the troops by the monarch would attract a crowd – and he was completely right – it is a popular tourist event.
So, there is the real birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, which is always on the same date: April 21st. However, the official birthday tends to change dates on a regular basis. For the most part it is in the second week in June. The Queen for a long time chose a Thursday for this event. Then, she opted to move it to a Saturday, probably to increase its power to increase the profile of the UK.
The official birthday of the Queen in the UK is merely tied to the Trooping the Color. However, in other Commonwealth countries the birthday is recognized as a public holiday. How these nations mark the day is under their control, as they decide on the criteria for what it means to them. Australia, for instance, recognized the official birthday in 1788, observing it on the second Monday in June – with the exception of Western Australia who hold celebrations on the last Monday of September or first in October.
Canadians have chosen to align the official birthday of the Queen with the actual birthday of Queen Victoria since 1845. Queen Victoria was born on May 24th in 1819. It became known as Victoria Day, celebrated on the Monday before May 24th.
Countries like New Zealand and the Falkland Islands decided to be a little more traditional. They celebrate the Queen’s birthday on the actual day she was born. How quaint!
And so, it is not surprising when we are talking about the Brits that the explanation has something to do with the weather. November is a bitterly cold and pretty stormy month. It is true that few would stand on the streets to celebrate anything – even the monarch’s birthday. So, when you are a King or a Queen, you have the power to do something about it. You can make up another date when you will have another birthday – and then you will be happy to know that you will get many more birthdays thanks to the extent of the Commonwealth.
Just think: all that birthday cake.