The first day of the month of March may not mean much to you but if you’re Welsh you know it is an important day. It’s St David’s Day!
Things every Welsh person knows about St David’s Day
As kids in primary school every St David’s Day we would all be expected to come to school in full traditional Welsh regalia. For the girls that meant basically dressing up as an old welsh woman. Long skirts, a black bonnet with a white lacy frill around the neck strap that itched all day, a pinny or apron tied around the waist and a woollen shawl. The boys would dress up as coal miners with ties around their trousers just below the knee and shirts and caps. As the years went by more and more they would just wear their Welsh rugby jersey to school. I wasn’t jealous at all.
Most of the school day was taken up with an extended assembly in the hall. We would sing old Welsh songs like sosban fach and listen to poems about the green green grass of home. It was a fun day even though I always felt silly dressed up. If your Nan fancied continuing on with tradition you would have a welsh lamb roast dinner for tea.
Things I Did Not Know About St David’s Day
I always wondered what the dressing up was all about. Why did Welsh women wear big hats? I think it was just the fashion of the day. A bonnet would keep you warm as would a woollen shawl and of course wool was a readily available resource. Since having my children I have learned that Welsh women would also use their shawls to wrap carry their babies. When I found that out I felt a keen link to my ancestors because I loved wrap carrying my babies too.
I never knew what on earth I was singing when we sang sosban fach. I thought it was about sauce pans. I’ve just googled it and it is Welsh for ‘Little Saucepan.’ It’s a weird little song you can read about it here. We also sang the Welsh national anthem of which all I know to this day is ‘Gwlad, gwlad!’ Don’t ask me what it means!
Schools are very much more culturally aware now it seems, and the Welsh language has had a massive revival effort since I was a kid in the 80’s. There is a Welsh speaking club at my daughter’s school and children are encouraged to use Welsh whenever they are able. For instance, they all ask to go to the toilet in Welsh now. Hopefully they are being taught a bit more about Welsh traditions and cultural history than just being told to wear a pinny for the day.
St David – the man, the myth, the legend.
St David performed a miracle. Legend goes that he made the ground that he was preaching on rise up into a mound in order that his audience could hear him better. According to wiki St David the patron saint of Wales was a vegetarian who travelled a lot and preached a lot. You might be able to spot images of him or stained glass windows in old churches in Wales, he’s often depicted standing on a hill with a dove on his shoulder. It seems he was quite famous back in the day (c. 550).
Picture from Wiki Media.
Protecting and preserving our Welsh heritage seems to have gone full circle. My great grandmother was from Merthyr Tydfil and she remembered the Welsh knot being used at school. She would have been a school aged child in the decade of 1910, her parents being late era Victorians. She was brought up a Welsh speaker, as was her whole house and probably street and entire community. She told me of how when she first started school she didn’t understand English and had to learn it and then of course her parents didn’t understand it so she would speak English at school and Welsh at home. The Welsh knot was a lump of wood on a string and if you were caught speaking Welsh in the classroom you were handed it. If you were unlucky enough to be the owner of the Welsh knot at the end of the school day, you would face corporal punishment.
When I was at school it seemed my year group were the last ones still educated under this hangover from way back when and studying Welsh was made compulsory in the national curriculum for every year group after ours.
Now it is at the forefront of education in Wales. There are Welsh medium schools across Wales and in English medium schools all children are introduced to Welsh and practise it daily right from nursery.
Cymru Am Byth!
Welsh people all across the world will be celebrating their culture and heritage on March 1st – St David’s Day. Waving the Welsh flag and wearing daffodils and marching in processions throughout various towns and cities.
When you’re trying to find a costume for the kids this St David’s Day for school or shouting at the rugby on the T.V. in the 6 nations in the spring take a second to think of all the people before us who have protected our heritage and culture to pass on to the next generation to be proud of where they’re from. WALES FOREVER!