Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Happy St. David's Day!

To be born Welsh
is to be born privileged,
not with a silver spoon
in your mouth
but music in your blood
and poetry in your soul


That Welsh proverb sums up the Welsh mentality. Wales is a rough but poetic land of seashore and ancient mountains. These mountains are of granite, slate and coal. The land is bounded on three sides (north, west and south) by the sea. No one in Wales lives very far from the sea... I lived at sea level in Bangor and it snowed on my birthday...in May. I could see the highest mountain in Wales, much higher than any in England, Mt. Snowdon, from my room. Bliss.

You probably don't know that the leek and the daffodil are the national symbols of Wales. On this day, traditional Welsh folks pin one or the other on their coats. When I lived in Wales, I did not fully understand the meaning behind the custom but I embraced its charming effect and gladly pinned one on. I left a piece of my heart in that land and miss it greatly this time of year. Please enjoy these Welsh St. David's Day musings. (They would be as popular as the Irish St. Patrick's Day, but the Welsh, unlike the Irish, are not shameless self promoters. They prefer to humbly keep a low profile and continue their lives in freedom and peace. Historically, the English and other warring tribes have attempted to interfere but even the most brutal assaults have not succeeded in stamping out the Welsh spirit and their lilting, sing-song native tongue.)

That the daffodil is a genuine golden yellow is a tribute to its lack of relationship with suffering. The daffodil doesn't care about complaints. On St. David's Day, the Welsh wear their daffodils in their lapels or put them in vases in their front room windows.

St. David was, according to legend, born in a field in the southwest corner of Wales some 1600 years ago. It was said to be during a thunderstorm. St. David's Cathedral stands on the spot, not proudly on a hill, but discreetly in a hollow and therefore safe from ancient enemies. Daffodil means "Peter's Leek" in Welsh (Cenhinen Bedr).

An ancient legend says the Welsh once fought a battle against the Saxons in a field of leeks. My mind puts the two Welsh symbols together, as the bulb of the daffodil looks very similar to the bulb of the leek--except it's poisonous.

"Today there will be harmonious singing of traditional songs like Sosban Fach (Little Saucepan), perhaps a game of rugby and some supping of good Welsh beer to keep the songsters' throats well oiled.

"On this Welsh National Day, and it is not even an official holiday mark you, there will be no parading of the military, no tanks rumbling down the main streets, no guided missiles on the backs of lorries. Wales is a proud land with a history that will stand up to any close scrutiny. The land may be small and have more sheep than people, but it is not and never will be some kind of jumped-up banana republic. In that way, the sons of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (the last indigenous prince of Wales defeated in 1277) are most astute." - Gwilym Williams

I will be cooking ham & leek pasta tonight in honor of the first leek dish I ever tasted (cooked by an Englishman!) and will think about my hardy Welsh ancestors and all they endured to keep their little corner of heaven.

Thank you to the Poet-in-Residence Gwilym Williams for providing research for this post.

1 comment:

Chicago Tafia said...

Happy St. David's Day from the Welsh in Chicago!