x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Countries go patriotic in colourful style

Every country has its own way of celebrating its birth but there's a common denominator in almost all celebrations: fireworks.

With National Day upon us, residents of the Emirates are set to begin celebrating the country's birth in the traditional way; by parading through the streets in vehicles decorated with the faces of the nation's rulers and the colours of its flag, accompanied by blasting stereos and flurries of car horns late into the night. For long-time residents of the UAE, this year's festivities will feel like business as usual, but anyone visiting the country for the first time may find the spectacle a little startling. A glance around the world, however, reveals that most patriotic celebrations are just as exuberant.

Most national days mark important dates in a country's history, such as the birth of a favourite ruler or saint, the signing of a constitution, or independence from foreign rule - often achieved after substantial bloodshed. But few countries can agree on how such anniversaries should be celebrated. When it comes to the rules of patriotic celebrations, it seems there are no rules. Mongolia's biggest national celebration takes place not over one day but three. The Naadam festival runs from July 11-13 commemorating the country's revolution. Mongolians gather everywhere from national stadiums to village squares to watch grown men grapple one another in their hundreds, with each wrestler permitted one official "encourager" to cheer him on and jeer his opponent.

The Central American nation of Belize has only been celebrating its Independence Day since 1981, so it is no big surprise that its traditional celebrations more closely resemble the Saturday night TV listings than a time-honoured tradition. As well as the regular Queen of the Bay beauty pageant, talent shows are a big part of the day's live entertainment programme. Surely no nation has succeeded in selling its biggest celebration overseas like the Irish with St Patrick's Day. From the dyed-green Chicago River to Indonesian taverns hosting singalongs of Danny Boy, the world's greatest exporter of people has made sure nobody misses out on the craic every March 17.

Just across the Irish Sea, however, the English celebrate their national day in a different fashion - by refusing to celebrate it. This may come as a surprise to the uninitiated, but most English people consider St George's Day to have been a success if it passes by completely unnoticed. But why? Perhaps the general unease the English have about patriotism is to blame, or maybe it's the fact that St George's Day says very little about Englishness. After all, it celebrates the life of a Turkish man (who may never have existed) who was said to have slain a dragon (which certainly never existed) almost two millennia ago.

Being patriotic in nearby Holland is a much easier feat, however. For Queen's Day, Dutch nationals are simply required to dress head to toe in orange. Decorating cars and houses in the country's unofficial colour scheme is also highly encouraged. The top cultural tradition on Finland's Independence Day happens in just one place - the airwaves. Every year, Fins sit down in their droves to watch The Unknown Soldier, a gloomy 1955 movie about a debilitating war with neighbouring Russia, told from the perspectives of heroic countrymen. Then they probably try to get an early night.

Food is a high priority on Constitution Day in nearby Norway. Salted white fish (or lutefisk) has long been a popular favourite, but kebabs are also a common fixture on the day that has become a celebration of the country's growing ethnic diversity. The best known national day celebration after St Paddy's is surely the Fourth of July. Parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnics, concerts and sporting events are all synonymous with America's Independence Day, but one pursuit sums it up more than any other.

And it's not just an American favourite. This phenomenon allows countrymen the world over to come together and has become the common denominator in every national day celebration: fireworks.