As a joint UK and Canadian citizen now living in the US, it was my great pleasure to write a blog about Victoria Day. Victoria Day commemorates the birthday of the UK’s second longest reigning monarch, Queen Victoria and is celebrated officially on the Monday before her birthday May 24 (born in 1819).
Queen Victoria is the great-great grandmother of the UK’s present monarch, Queen Elizabeth II who is now the country’s longest reigning monarch at 68 years and counting. As well as reigning over the present day UK countries of England, Scotland and Wales, Victoria was also Queen of Ireland and Empress of the British Empire, which included countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India, all of which are now sovereign countries but still part of the British Commonwealth. Her name lives on in many locations in these countries, including Victoria, the capital of the Canadian Province of British Columbia and Victoria, one of the states of Australia. Her statue is also a common sight in many UK and Commonwealth cities, including my hometown of Bristol.
Interestingly, the only countries where Victoria Day is an official holiday are Canada and parts of Scotland. The UK does not mark the day as an official holiday.
In Canada, the day is celebrated with parades, picnics, cannon salutes and stunning firework displays. The day is seen as the unofficial and welcome start of summer, similar to Memorial Day in the US. This year’s celebration is likely to be more of a virtual party, given the social distancing guidelines in place due to COVID-19. Toronto has already cancelled all in-person festivities. Instead, officials say the city will celebrate the country’s birthday with virtual celebrations.
Here are some fascinating facts about Queen Victoria:
- Her first name wasn’t actually Victoria, but Alexandrina. She was named after her godfather, Tsar Alexander I of Russia. She always preferred her second name, Victoria.
- She was fluent in English, German, French, Italian and Latin. Her mother and her governess (nanny) both had German roots and she grew up speaking the language and also spoke it in private with her beloved husband, Prince Albert, who was also from Germany.
- Towards the end of her reign, her Indian attendant, Abdul Karim, taught the Queen many Hindu and Urdu phrases so she could communicate more easily with her servants, many of whom had arrived from India to work at the royal residences.
- She was barely five feet tall – a whopping four inches shorter than Queen Elizabeth II!
- She was the first member of the royal family to live at Buckingham Palace and personally oversaw the renovation and expansion of what was originally an obscure and rather shabby minor royal house. To this day, the royals affectionally refer to the palace as “Buck House.”
- She began one of the most popular wedding trends in history. At the time of her wedding, it was tradition to wear colorful wedding dresses, but Victoria wanted to showcase the intricate white lace embroidery on her dress, so she insisted the whole dress be white. She even forbade any of her guests from wearing white to the wedding and ordered the pattern of her dress to be destroyed. Talk about one of a kind!
- She is also behind another familiar tradition. You can thank Queen Victoria and her husband for the Christmas tree. The custom originated in Prince Albert’s native Germany and spread around the English-speaking world after they familiarized the custom in the UK in 1848.
- The Victorian Age was named after the queen and represented a period of rapid industrialization and technological advancement. Victoria was the first monarch to be photographed or ride a train. These were bold steps in a time when some people still believed that a camera could steal one’s soul or that riding in a vehicle travelling over 20 miles per hour could cause the body to disintegrate!
Happy Birthday Queen Victoria!
Written by Jon Kuykendall-Barrett, Account Executive