Commonwealth Day 2020: when is the annual celebration, what does it commemorate and how to watch the Westminster Abbey service

More than 50 countries around the world will observe Commonwealth Day on Monday 9 March

The Commonwealth flag will be flying around the world on Monday 9 March. Picture: Shutterstock

Designed as a celebration of the co-operation between Commonwealth nations and their shared values, it has been in placed since 1958.

However, as we reckon with the legacy of British colonialism, it becomes a more problematic occasion for many.

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Here’s everything you need to know.

Each of the member states will be represented at the Commonwealth Day service. Pictrue: Shutterstock

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What is Commonwealth Day?

Commonwealth Day is an annual celebration of the Commonwealth of Nations – 53 countries that were previously a part of the British Empire, as well as Britain itself and its overseas territories.

Sixteen of these states still recognise the British Queen as their monarch.

Altogether, it is celebrated by over 2 billion people, or about a third of the world’s population.

After Queen Victoria died in 1901, her birthday (24 May) was anointed Empire Day. It was celebrated in countries all around the Empire as a patriotic holiday, re-enforcing the idea of the greatness of the British Empire.

In 1925, an Empire Day thanksgiving service was held at Wembley Stadium and attracted 90,000 people.

It continued until 1958 when Prime Minister Harold MacMillan announced that it would be renamed Commonwealth Day.

When is Commonwealth Day 2020?

Rather than continuing to celebrate Commonwealth Day on the fixed date of 24 May as they had with Empire Day, the Royal Commonwealth Society determined that it would instead be held on the second Monday of March each year.

For 2020, that means that Commonwealth Day falls on Monday 9 March.

The BBC will broadcast the annual Service of Celebration from Westminister Abbey at 2.15pm.

How is it celebrated?

Commonwealth Day continues to be celebrated by nations around the world, with street parties, parades, debates, flag-raising ceremonies and all kinds of other festive activities.

While it is not a public holiday in Britain, it is in countries like Gibraltar.

The official celebration sees the Queen and other members of the royal family attending a multi-faith ceremony featuring representatives from each of the Commonwealth’s member states.

It has already been confirmed that Prince Andrew will be absent from this year’s ceremony following the on—going controversy surrounding his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein.

The service begins with a procession of every state’s flag and features readings and music from around the Commonwealth.

Why is it controversial?

While membership in the Commonwealth is entirely voluntary, many still find it strange to celebrate the fact Britain’s history of laying violent claim to other nations.

It has also been pointed out that, while Commonwealth Day is theoretically a celebration of “shared values”, there are some fairly vital values that are not shared by the states themselves – homosexuality is still outlawed in several Commonwealth countries.

In countries like Nigeria, it remains punishable by death.

Ironically, the majority of these laws have stemmed directly from the prejudices of their British colonisers.

Altogether, there are plenty of reasons to see the Commonwealth as a problematic thing to celebrate.