Welsh Culture & Tradition:

Wales is certainly unique, and the culture and tradition have changed little for many centuries.

The Romans occupied Wales for 400 years, and after the Romans came the Normans, Vikings, Picts and Saxons. The medieval era in Wales is full of rebellious exploits by the Welsh, most notably by princes like Owain Glyndwr. Parliament acts between 1536 and 1543 unified Wales with England.

Welsh culture and tradition is celebrated at a festival called "Eisteddfod." This was originally a medieval meeting of the "bards." There were poetry competitions and harp-playing in these times, but today there is choir-singing, music bands, acting, reciting, writing and painting. Each town and village appears to have their own little "Eisteddfod", and it is another way to revive local interest in the national language and culture.

There are two important versions of "Eisteddfod" in Wales. The first is the National Eisteddfod, which is held in North and South Wales on alternate years, at the start of August. The ceremonies are conducted by "Gorsedd of Bards" (an association of people interested in Welsh art and culture).

The International Eisteddfod occurs in Llangollen, where there is dancing and singing from all over the world. (This global festival takes place in July).

Other traditions and holidays in Wales:

CYMANFA GANU (Hymn Singing): Dating back to around 1190, this event centers on the singing of hymns. The singing used to go hand-in-hand with the "temperance movement", but is now conducted for the sheer pleasure of singing.

NOSON LAWEN (Merry Night): This event started as a tradition to bring out the hay harvest. Activities include verse-reciting, harp-playing and dancing.

NOS GALAN GAEAF (All Hallows Eve): Meaning the beginning of the new year in ancient times, this is the night Welsh spirits are said to walk abroad. In Montgomeryshire, a mash was made in many farmhouses that included nine ingredients: potatoes, carrots, turnips, peas, parsnips, leeks, pepper, salt and milk. In this mash, a wedding ring was hidden. The young maiden who first found the ring in the mash would also be the first married.

Y NADOLIG (Christmas): In many parts of Wales at Christmas, it used to be the custom to attend a church service known as "Plygain" (daybreak), between three A.M. and six A.M. To pass the time waiting for Christmas Eve, young people would make treacle toffee, and decorate their homes with fresh mistletoe and holly. Mistletoe was thought of as a magical plant that protected the home from evil. The holly was a symbol of eternal life, and was often displayed along with ivy, rosemary and bay leaves.

GWYL SAN STEFFAN (St. Stephens Day; Boxing Day - December 26th): The day after Christmas was also a significant event in Wales. One of the activities included "holly beating" or "holming" (where young men would slash at the arms of young females with holly branches until they bled). Thankfully, this "tradition" no longer takes place.

NOS GALAN (New Years Eve): Some quaint Welsh customs for the new year were: "all existing debts were to be paid"; never lend anything to anyone on New Years Day else you would have bad luck; and the behavior of an individual on this day was an indication of how they would behave all year!

TWELFTH NIGHT (evening of January 5th): This was the celebration of the end of "Christmastide." All of the holiday decorations would be taken down, and the ashes from the Yule log would be buried with the seeds to ensure the coming of spring, and a healthy harvest.

FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY (January 6th): A large cake was prepared and divided into three parts to represent Christ, the Virgin Mary and the Three Wise Men. A ring was concealed in the cake, and whoever found the ring at the neighborhood gathering was elected King or Queen of Misrule (presiding over the day's festivities).

THE WASSAIL: This means to be "whole and healthy", and both Christmas and New Years were marked by "wassailing." This included both drinking and singing.

HUNTING THE WREN: Associated with Twelfth Night, young men would capture a wren and present it in a gilded cage to villagers in exchange for money or gifts of food.

SHROVE TUESDAY:' The last day of feasting, drinking and merry-making before Lent began.

Y CROCHON CREWYS (The Lenten Crock): Another country tradition where food plays a large role. A "crochon" was usually a scooped-out turnip, or other large vegetable. It was placed on the window sill of a farmhouse in the cover of darkness, during which a verse of poetry was recited.

SUL Y BLODAU (Sunday of the Flowers): This is Palm Sunday in Wales, and it is the custom to decorate the graves in the churchyards with flower arrangements as a preparation for Easter. Graves were cleaned, weeded and whitewashed before the flowers were placed.

Y GROGLITH (Good Friday): One custom on Good Friday includes walking barefoot to church, so as not to disturb the earth!

DYDD LLUN Y PASG (Easter Monday): On Easter Sunday, some Welsh townspeople made collective pilgrimages to the tops of nearby mountains at dawn - to watch the sun rise.

ST. DAVID'S DAY (March 1st): St. David is the patron saint of Wales (much like St. Patrick is to the Irish). This is the most important holiday in Wales, and it is on this day that the Welsh remember their roots, and celebrate their culture and identity. St. David was a crusader for Christianity, and is said to have died on March 1, 589. His remains are buried at the Cathedral of St. David's in Pembrokeshire, West Wales.

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