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18 August: Happy St Helena Day!

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St Helena celebrations take place every August in Birkirkara, in Malta

St Helena Online wishes all readers a happy St Helena Day.

Yes, really. There are two feast days of St Helena, in May and August, celebrating the saint credited with finding the remains of the True Cross of Christ in the 4th Century.

On 21 May, St Helenians traditionally toast the anniversary of the island’s discovery in 1502.

But it has been suggested that the discovery may actually have taken place on 18 August, which is the saint’s feast day in the Roman Catholic calendar. The Portuguese mariners who found the island would have been Roman Catholic.

But actually, St Helena scholar Dr Alexander Schulenburg suggests both dates could be wrong. Even the year might not be right, he says in an article for Wirebird, the magazine of the Friends of St Helena.

Fireworks mark St Helena day on two islands – in different months

“It is not known why the island was named St Helena,” he writes. “That it was discovered on one of the two feast days of St Helena, and hence named after the said saint, is mere supposition.

“St Helena Bay in South Africa, for instance, was discovered and thus named by Vasco da Gama on 7 November 1497, coinciding with neither of the feast days.”

Whilst Saints celebrate St Helena Day with a religious service and a parade – as well as comic sports – the people of Birkirkara in Malta go a step further.

They parade a large gold statue of St Helena through the streets decorated with banners and flags, with church bands playing loud music.

Both celebrations end with fireworks.

Click here to see a video of the festivities in Birkirkara

Saints who wish to mark the August feast day don’t have to go to quite those lengths.

An American website called Catholic Cuisine suggests celebrating with a Triumph of The Cross cookie hunt:

“Make some simple cut-out sugar cookies in the shape of a cross. It might be fun to try a chocolate version to simulate the wood of the cross. Frost all of the cookies white except for one. Frost that cookie red. Now, go hide the cookies all over the house. The red cross represents the True Cross that everyone should be hunting for and at the end of the hunt you should have a plate of cookies to enjoy together.”

Another site suggests having a mozzarella and basil salad, inspired by the legend that basil grew wild on the hillside where St Helena reputedly found the True Cross.

Alternatively, you may simply prefer a glass of wine.

  • A note from the editor: this website considers 18 August to be by far the more significant of the two feast days. It’s my birthday.

Happy Anniversary, St Helena. We are still missing you. Much love and best wishes to all our very special friends on the island. We speak and think of you often.x
Ingrid Newman, on a yacht, somewhere in South America

St Helena Day ‘best to date’, says Nick

Birkirkara celebrates St Helena Day – pictures
Triumph of The Cross cookie hunt – Catholic Cuisine
The Roman Catholic Church in the South Atlantic

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