Bunting and flags mark four days of Queen's jubilee celebrations
By Michael Holden
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain embarks on four days of pomp, pageantry and patriotism on Saturday to mark Queen Elizabeth's 60th year on the throne, with the monarchy's popularity surging and celebrations bringing cheer to a nation struggling in harsh economic times.
"Union Jack" flags fluttered from buildings, shops and train stations across the country, thousands of street parties have been planned and huge crowds are expected to flock to Diamond Jubilee festivities in a country emblazoned red, white and blue.
To royalists, the occasion is a chance to express their thanks and appreciation to the 86-year-old Elizabeth, head of state for 16 countries from Australia and Canada to tiny Tuvalu in the Pacific Ocean, for her years of public service.
For others, the chance of some extra days off work and to enjoy the sort of extravaganza and public ceremony for which Britain is renowned has made it a welcome break from austere times, pay freezes and deep public spending cuts.
Republicans hope the occasion marks the last hurrah of a dying anachronism, while some 2 million people are leaving Britain altogether to go on holiday.
"Original jubilees were invented in the 19th century by the popular press as modes of national celebration for which the monarchy and monarch was almost incidental," said royal biographer Robert Lacey.
He said the jubilee was as much about society celebrating itself as it was about the head of state and the now largely symbolic institution of the monarchy.
"They tend to work best in times of economic hardship. It provides a tonic for the country," Lacey told Reuters. Continued...