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Welsh Culture - Traditions, Language and Customs.
What is Culture?
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines culture as
: the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time
: a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc.
: a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business)
So what does it mean for Welsh people? language, the national anthem, castles, the flag and food are all aspects that come to mind.
Map of Wales
The History of Wales
Wales is a country in its own right. The first recorded reference to Wales begins with the arrival of Romans on the Welsh Borders. The Celtic language of Brythonic that was present at that time evolved into the Welsh language of today. In 784 AD the first permanent boundary between Wales and England in the form of Offas Dyke shaped the territory of Wales. The building of castles began in 1283 and there are now over 600 castles in Wales. In 1536 the Act of Union united Wales politically with England and the country became governed by English law.
Although everyone in Wales speaks English, over half a million people speak Welsh. Cymraeg, the welsh word for the language is one of Europe's oldest living languages. Various Acts provide that the Welsh and English languages should be treated equally. Road signs are written in both languages and it is compulsory for all school pupils up to age 16 to study Welsh.
Welsh is written in an alphabet consisting of 28 letters,
a, b, c, ch, d, dd, e, f, ff, g, ng, h, i, l, ll, m, n, o, p, ph, r, rh, s, t, th, u, w, y
The letters w and y are considered vowel letters along with a, e, i, o, u.
Examples of Welsh Words
There are several symbols, including the red dragon flag that Welsh people identify with. The Leek, daffodil and a lovespoon are good examples. The Leek and daffodil are the national symbols of Wales. There are several theories behind the origin of these emblems.
One theory about the leek is that on the eve of a battle with the Saxons St David told the Britons to wear leeks in their caps so they could identify each other. This helped them to be victorious. Today Welsh people around the world wear leeks on St David's Day. It is also a surviving tradition that soldiers in the Welsh regiments eat a raw leek on St David's day
The origins of the daffodil as a symbol is is under debate. Some believe the Welsh for leek and daffodil sound similar and over the years they became confused until the daffodil was adopted as a second emblem of Wales. An alternative origin is that David Lloyd George, the only Welshman to serve as British Prime Minister, was fan of the daffodil and its appearance in early spring coincides with St David’s Day on March 1st.
The Red Dragon or Y Ddraig Goch Flag
The origins of Wales' flag, a red dragon on a green and white field are not clearly known.
The Welsh Government website Wales.com suggests that the origins are lost in legend but
'may derive from Roman custom, a dragon having been the emblem of the cohort. In post-Roman times, legendary warriors sometimes became known as 'dragons'. King Arthur's father was Uther Pendragon, the 'chief dragon', and legend tells that he had a vision of a fiery dragon, interpreted by his seers as a sign that he would mount the throne.'
Alternatively there is a legend about the struggle between the red dragon of Wales and the white dragon of England, the red dragon being victorious. Henry Tudor whose standard emblem was a red dragon won the right to the throne at the culmination of the War of the Roses.
'As Henry VII he incorporated the Welsh dragon in the Royal Arms, where it remained until James I displaced it in favor of the Scottish Unicorn. In 1901, however, the red dragon was officially recognized as the Royal Badge of Wales, and in 1959 the Queen commanded that the red dragon on its green and white field should be the Welsh flag',
Traditional Welsh Costume
Saint David or Dewi Sant is the patron saint of Wales. He is celebrated throughout Wales on March 1st, the date he died in 589AD.
Welsh people around the world wear the national emblems and children dress up in national costume. St David even has his own flag which can be seen flying on March 1st in many places.St David went on many pilgrimages, founding religious centres across Wales and England, including one at Glastonbury. He establised a religious community in Glyn Rhosyn in South West Wales. There are many stories about miracles he performed, the most famous being when he caused the ground to rise beneath him when preaching so that everyone could see and hear him.
There over 600 castles in Wales. There are several types of castle structures and Wales has examples of all these types.
Motte and bailey castles were a form of castle structure that enabled the new Norman conquerors to subdue and keep out the Britons. The name 'motte and bailey' describes the two parts of the structure. A motte was an earth mound, a raised mound on which a tower or keep could be built.The baileys were enclosures which sometimes surrounded the base of the motte, providing another layer of defense or enclosure.The Norman inner castle in Cardiff is an example of the motte and bailey structure.
Concentric castles were based on a ring-within-a-ring structure, designed to pose as great a challenge to attackers as possible.The castle would begin with a central enclosure of stone walls and towers, then one or more outer walls, also with towers. The walls would have arrow slits and openings for boiling oil or other missiles. Caerphilly castle is a good example of this type of castle.
Linear castles were constructed when concentric castles structures were not possible. A linear castle focused its defenses on one side of the castle. Caernarfon castle is a good example of this type of castle.
Most People think of Welsh cakes when asked to identify traditional Welsh food. There are however many other dishes that originated in Wales. As avid Tea drinkers a popular cake to bake is Bara Brith, a fruit cake with cold tea added. Cawl, a type of soup, Glamorgan Sausages and Welsh Rarebit are all traditional foods.
Recipe for Bara Brith
450g/1ib self raising flour
Put dried fruit in a bowl, pour over tea cover and leave to soak over night.
1tbs mixed spice
Mix together sugar,egg,orating juice, zest and honey, add the soaked fruit.
175g/6oz muscavado sugar
Sift flour and spice and mix well.
Pour mixture into a buttered loaf tin.
1tbsp orange zest
Bake in a preheated oven at gas Maori 3/160c/ 325f for about 13/4 hrs.
2tbsp orange juice
The loaf should be golden in color and firm to touch in the middle.
Baste with honey while still warm.
300ml/1/2pint of cold tea
450g/1lb mixed, dried fruit
Extra honey for glazing
Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi,
Gwlad beirdd a chantorion, enwogion o fri;
Ei gwrol ryfelwyr, gwladgarwyr tra mâd,
Tros ryddid gollasant eu gwaed.
Gwlad, Gwlad, pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad,
Tra môr yn fur i'r bur hoff bau,
O bydded i'r heniaith barhau.
Hen Gymru fynyddig, paradwys y bardd;
Pob dyffryn, pob clogwyn, i'm golwg sydd hardd
Trwy deimlad gwladgarol, mor swynol yw si
Ei nentydd, afonydd, i fi.
Os treisiodd y gelyn fy ngwlad dan ei droed,
Mae hen iaith y Cymry mor fyw ag erioed,
Ni luddiwyd yr awen gan erchyll law brad,
Na thelyn berseiniol fy ngwlad.
The national anthem of Wales is Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (translated in English as ‘Land of my Fathers’). It was written in 1856 by Evan James and his son, James James, from Pontypridd in Glamorgan.
It is often sung at the beginning of sports events such as Rugby.
The sport most identified with Wales is Rugby.
The website Wales.com states of Wales that
'Rugby Union: our national sport. Few things can rouse the Welsh like a full house at the Millennium Stadium singing the national anthem and traditional hymns and arias at the rugby'.
The stadium in Cardiff, the countries capital city also hosts international championships for sports such as football, boxing cricket and golf.
The custom of giving lovespoons can be traced back to the 17th century. Traditionally it was a wooden spoon carved by a young man and given to the woman he loved as a token of his affection. The symbols that decorate the spoon would represent a specific meaning or significance. Today they are given to mark and celebrate occasions such as weddings, births and anniversaries.
Symbols and their Meanings
Balls in a cage
Number of children
What does it mean?
What do you think the symbol of a diamond signifies?
In conclusion, there are many aspects of Welsh life that can be identified as part of the culture of the country. Some of these are unique to Wales, such as the language, costume, songs and emblems. Others such as the popularity of drinking hot tea and the tradition of castle building are shared with the other countries that make up the British Isles and can be identified with by their populations.
Related link - Welsh Cakes
- Welsh Cakes/Picau Ar Y Maen
How do you make a perfect Welsh Cake? Recipes are often passed down through families with variations in ingredients. The secret is in the method and equipment you use.
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