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This celebration is held in England and is  normally held on the second Saturday in June.  There are exceptions.  For example, in 2013 it will be held on June 15, which is the third Saturday.   It is also celebrated in other countries that have ties to the United Kingdom. The basic color associated with this celebration is red because that is also the color of Queen Elizabeth's flag.

The origin of this observance was Queen Victoria's  (ruled from 1837 to 1901) idea.  The British have celebrated their sovereign's birthday for centuries. But, Queen Victoria wanted to make an "official" birthday celebration.   Although her birthday was really on May 24th, it was decided to celebrate it publicly in June. 

Both Edward VII (1901-1910) who had a birthday in November and George V (1910-1936) who had a birthday in December and Elizabeth (1952 to present) who had a birthday in April, all agreed to continue the official birthday celebration as being held in June every year.  One of the reasons is that the weather in England was always better in June that in the actual birthday months of the sovereigns.  This just made sense!

Queen Elizabeth II has reigned over England for a very long time and had her coronation on June 2, 1953 (commonly referred to as the Queen's Birthday). But it is usually observed as I said above, the 2nd Saturday in June, unless other obligations require it to be moved up or back a week.

The official birthday celebration is closely identified with the Trooping of the Colours Ceremony. This takes place on Horse Guards Parade in Whitehall, an area of London where many government offices are located. It's also where Whitehall Palace, the official residence of the royal family back in the 16th and 17th centuries, once was.

The queen is escorted from her home at Buckingham Palace by her Household Cavalry to the parade grounds, where she sits on horseback and carries out an inspection of the Household Troops which are all assembled there.

The flag of color of a particular regiment (a different one is chosen every year) is then "trooped" or carried through the ranks where each and every soldier can see it.  Then the troops either ride or march past the queen.  Then the queen returns to Buckingham Palace.  

A royal salute of 41 guns in London's Green Park brings this event to its conclusion.

Symbols and Customs

COLOURS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Colours" is a British term that refers to the regimental flag that was traditionally carried into battle and used to rally the soldiers. It also helped them recognize other members of their group that they were fighting with.  This is no longer done, but the color still symbolizes the regiment's spirit and is carried in parades as a memorial to fallen soldiers.

The Queen's Colour is solid crimson.  When she is present during the ceremony (sometimes she isn't) then her color is carried through the ranks of her Household Troops (Coldstream, Grenadier, Scots, Irish or Welsh Guards) that are in London.

 

Horse Guards Parade

 

 

The Trooping Guards Parade is London's largest open space.  It was built in 1745 to house the guards for the royal palace of Whitehall.  It was also used as a jousting ground and a tennis court.  The Parade is entered through a low arch, where two sentries stand guard.  In the same area are a number of government offices and the prime minister's Downing Street residence around it's perimeter.

 

Inspection

 

 

 

This isn't really an inspection per se.  It's more of a formality.  Because every soldier has already been inspected a number of times beforehand to make sure he is spotless and his equipment is pristine and in perfect condition, this inspection is simply a way of letting the soldiers know that the queen is appreciating them and acknowledging their presence.


Royal Salute

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the firing of the 41 guns in London's Green Park after the queen has returned to her residence in Buckingham Palace.  This is done as a symbol of the people's respect for their sovereign.  Saluting with guns dates way back to the 16th century as a naval tradition. A warship entering a foreign port would demonstrate it's peaceful intentions by emptying all of it's guns first. (This would seem like an attack to me, but hey! )  By 1688, rules were set up limiting how many guns should be fired to show respect for an admiral. They decided 19 would do it. Then they decided to show respect for the royal family would be 21 guns. (They decided this because most naval ships back then had 10 guns on each side, plus an extra shot would be fired as a signal to begin.)  So, add 19 + 21 + 1 = 41. Thus, the 41-gun salute = two complete rounds from the gun deck of a ship plus the one single starting signal shot.

 

Trooping the Colour

 

 

 

 

 

Originally this was called, "Lodging the Colour" because the flag that is carried past the troops was lodged or returned to the regiment's quarters afterwards for safe keeping. Trooping the Colour (Color) goes way back to the 18th century.  It represents the soldiers loyalty to their King or Queen.  This ritual consists of intricate fast and slow marches and other parade maneuvers that take months of rehearsal to perform without errors.   The ceremony is accompanied by military music, primarily drums and pipes; and, it lasts about one hour.  The public is invited to watch the dress rehearsals for this, which take place on the two Saturdays prior to the official event.

Return to our June Holidays Page for more celebrations.

Source of Information:
"Holidays, Symbols & Customs  3rd Edition"
By Sue Ellen Thompson
Omnigraphics, Inc. 2003

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