Commonwealth Day is the centrepiece of the Commonwealth annual calendar, from its early beginnings nearly a century ago when it was celebrated as Empire Day; it became known as Commonwealth Day in 1966.
Since 1977, Commonwealth Day has been observed on the second Monday of March each year and provides a special opportunity for engaging the interest of the public, especially young people in and out of school, in the Commonwealth. The date is chosen as being one when schools in the great majority of Commonwealth countries are in session. In recent years, it has become the custom to cluster many other Commonwealth meetings and events in the days immediately following – including, for example, the annual Commonwealth Lecture, organised by the Commonwealth Foundation – with the result that the day marks the start of what is becoming known as Commonwealth Week.
Every year a contemporary theme provides the focus for Commonwealth activities, for the Queen’s Commonwealth Day message and for a display poster that is sent to schools in every Commonwealth country. Recent themes have included ‘A Young Commonwealth’ (2015); ‘Team Commonwealth’ (2014); ‘Opportunity through Enterprise’ (2013); ‘Connecting cultures’ (2012); ‘Women as agents of change’ (2011); ‘Science, technology and society’ (2010); and ‘The Commonwealth at 60 – serving a new generation’ (2009).
A special Commonwealth Day Observance ceremony takes place in many countries. In the UK this takes the form of a multi-faith religious service in Westminster Abbey, featuring hymns, readings and performances reflecting the vibrancy and diversity of the modern Commonwealth. The service is held in the presence of the Queen, as Head of
the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Commonwealth countries’ High Commissioners in London, British government ministers, and many hundreds
of school children and other young people. This Observance is delivered by the Royal Commonwealth Society under the auspices of the Council of Commonwealth Societies (CCS), a membership organisation tasked with supporting and co-ordinating Commonwealth- wide celebrations.
Many schools and colleges in Commonwealth countries also mark the day with a parade or other ceremony, and children are encouraged to undertake projects on Commonwealth topics. Commonwealth countries across the regions have been prominent in marking the day by special events.