The second Monday of March each year is Commonwealth Day. The day is observed in all Commonwealth countries but is not necessarily a public holiday. For people outside the Commonwealth of Nations, this is the name of voluntary international organisation given to what was once the British Empire.
Commonwealth Day started as Empire day before changing in the 1950’s. Surprisingly it started not in London but in Canada in 1898. The day is observed differently in all the member countries. There are a number of regional public holidays in Australia on Commonwealth Day though none of them are designated as such. Some states as Canada simply fly Union Flags outside state buildings whilst others like Gibraltar have an actual Commonwealth Day holiday. Other states have holidays which are in some way related to the Queens birthday.
The centrepiece of the day in London is a multi-faith service in Westminster Abbey attended by government officials and member of parliament along with foreign ambassadors and dignitaries and also the Queen along with around 1,000 school children. In 1984 I myself met the Queen in Westminster Abbey as my school teacher that year was from New Zealand so I was picked to represent New Zealand along with my teacher.
The Commonwealth is these days very much to do with business, trade, law and human rights. With over 2.5 billion people (one third of the world), the Commonwealth brings together people, nations from all over the world and with all sorts of beliefs.
Aside from that, the most obvious sign of the Commonwealth is the Commonwealth Games which runs every 4 years and is similar to the Olympic Games. Currently there are 54 independent Commonwealth nations with a number of other dependent territories. Sometimes the number of states goes down as well as up as states can be suspended due to human rights abuses or lack of democracy. There is often heated debate when this occurs such as with Zimbabwe. Once reforms are enacted then member states are free to apply to re-join.
There are also many states that are free to join the Commonwealth subject to meeting entry qualifications which haven’t yet done so. Any country with a historic relationship with Great Britain is free to join. Some don’t join such as the United States as it already enjoys preferential trading terms with many Commonwealth nations. Others such as Egypt, Israel or Iraq are able to apply but haven’t done so due internal political reasons. Currently states that are in the process of applying include Algeria, Mozambique, Sudan and South Sudan and Yemen. In the last 2 years there has been some speculation the Ireland may rejoin the organisation.