Sovereign Day, formerly known as Commonwealth Day, is a public holiday in Belize. It celebrates the organisation of 54 independent or sovereign states under the British monarchy.
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In 1884, Lord Roseberry visited Australia, which was then under British governance, and observed that some of the colonies were becoming increasingly independent. This observation led to a consultation between Britain and the colonies to address the need for independence.
In 1931, Canada, the United Kingdom, Irish Free State, Newfoundland and the Union of South Africa were recognised as the British Commonwealth of Nations. British was dropped from the name in 1946 and the countries are now more commonly called part of “The Commonwealth.”
In 1981, Belize joined the Commonwealth and is known as a constitutional monarchy. The Queen is not involved in daily governance, but is involved in ceremonial and symbolic events.
History of the Holiday
In the United Kingdom, Commonwealth Day is observed on the 2nd Monday in March. However, in Belize Commonwealth Day is celebrated on the 24th of May in honour of Queen Victoria’s birthday. This is why the holiday was originally known as Sovereign Day, although many in Belize still call it “Queen’s Birthday.”
During her reign, Queen Victoria was viewed as a motherly figure who was a revered leader of the British empire. The year after her death, the holiday was changed to Empire Day by the Earl of Meath in an effort to promote the training of children in “all virtues which conduce to the creation of good citizens.” It became Commonwealth Day in 1966.
Celebrations and Traditions
Commonwealth Day is a public holiday with banks and government offices closed. Horse races, conducted by the National Sports Council, are held in Belize City’s National Stadium and Orange Walk Town’s People’s Stadium. There is a cycling race, also arranged by the National Sports Council, between the cities of Belmopan and Cayo.
There is a flag-raising ceremony and a reading of the Queen’s Commonwealth Day message as well as events held at schools and universities to commemorate Commonwealth Day.
There are many family-related activities, such as vacations in the cayes, lagoons found throughout the country. Because most businesses and schools are closed, people spend the day exploring Mayan ruins or the Jaguar Paw. It is an opportunity for zip-lining through the rain forest, rappelling and searching the many caves found on Belize.