There is no other part of the British Isles where national traditions are more cherishes than in Wales. It is indeed rare in this modern world to find a national anthem, that stress so much the artistic aspect of the country. But it is necessary to understand fully this attitude before one can appreciate the subtle change that takes place as we pass the borderline between England and Wales. For no one can cross this frontier into the first little village without realizing that one is no longer in England. This is due not solely to the question of the language, although Welsh is indeed a sufficient obstacle to most of us who desire to penetrate more deeply into the mysteries of the Welsh character, but rather a profound difference in the way of living, in the attitude towards life of this small, tenacious people.
Welsh really begins with the Anglo-Saxon victories in the 6th and 7th centuries which isolated the Welsh from the rest of their fellow – Britons. Until the 11th century the Vikings made frequent raids on the coast. Then came the Normans who penetrated into the south of the country and established many strongholds, in spite of strong resistance organized by the Welsh. However, the subjections of the people was completed by Edward I who made his son, afterwards Edward II, the first Prince of Wales.
For the people of Wales represent the remnants of those pugnacious Celtic people who were subjected to centuries of Roman rule, underwent the invasions of the Saxons, who drove them to their mountain fastnesses, an endured the phenomenal organizing efficiency of the Norman conquerors without ceding one iota of their cultural independence .
And here is the secret of the essential difference of the Welsh. An old Welsh proverb says, ‘The Celt always fights and always loses’. Militarily and politically this has been true of the Welsh, but during those centuries of ceaseless strife the Welshman came to realize that there was something he had always been unconsciously struggling to preserve, an indefinable passion for the music and poetry born of his lonely vigils in mountain and valley when he held solitary converse with the infinite, and, in this last and greatest battle, the Welshman has belied the proverb and emerged victorious.
Thus we have an explanation of the extraordinary tenacity with which this people has clung to its traditions, its customs, its language, and its own way of life.
People in Wales speak English, but at the same time they have their own language – Welsh. Welsh is spoken by one million people, 20% of the population of Wales. Some Welsh people learn Welsh before they learn English – and some of these people never learn much English. Some Welsh families speak Welsh to each other at home, but they read English newspapers and English books. Welsh and English are both official languages in Wales. The Welsh Language Act of 1967 said that all official documents should be in both languages, and most road signs are printed in English and Welsh.
Since the 1960s there has been increased interest in Welsh. At secondary schools almost 50% of all pupils learn Welsh as a first or second language.
The Welsh language is a Celtic brunch of the Indo-European languages and has some roots in common with them.
Although not many Welsh words are well-known in England, the word ‘eisteddfod’ is understood by almost everybody. This is the Welsh name for an annual competition where people meet to dance, sing and read poems.
The Welsh wear the same clothes as the English. But on holidays a Welsh woman wear a red cloak, a long black skirt, an apron and a high black hat on her head. The men do not have a national costume. They smile, ‘We have no money after we have bought clothes for our wives!’
The Welsh are known in Great Britain for their singing. Welsh people like singing together. Every village has more than one choir. They sing in competitions, on holidays and every time they want to sing.
The Welsh Eisteddfodau
No country in the world has a greater love of music and poetry than the people of Wales. Today Eisteddfodau are held at scores of places throughout Wales, particularly from May to early November. The habit of holding similar events dates back to early history, and there are records of competitions for Welsh poets and musicians in 12th century. The Eisteddfod sprang from the Gorsedd, or national Assembly of Bards. It was held occasionally up to 1819, but since then has come an annual event for the encouragement of Welsh literature and music and the preservation of the Welsh language and ancient national customs.
The Royal National Eisteddfod of Wales is held annually early in August, in North and South Wales alternately, its actual venue varying from year to year. It attracts Welsh people from all over the world. The program includes male and mixed choirs, brass-band concerts, many children’s events, drama, arts and crafts and, of course, the ceremony of the Crowning of the Bard.
Next in importance is great Llangollen International Music Eisteddfod, held early in July and attended by competitors from many countries, all wearing picturesque and often colorful national costumes. It is an event probably without parallel anywhere in the world. There are at least twenty-five major Eisteddfodau from May to November.
In addition to the Eisteddfodau, about thirty major Welsh Singing Festivals are held throughout Wales from May until early November.
The Welsh call their country Cymru, and themselves they call Cymry, a word which has the same root as ‘comrade, friend’.