The way we think about key events in the Welsh social calendar is changing. Of course, change is normal, but the change in Wales seems more rapid than elsewhere. In the last 20 years, the number of annual events specific to Wales and its culture seems to have increased exponentially, and the way we celebrate these events has been changing too. Saint Dwynwen’s day (often called the Welsh Valentine’s day) on the 25th of January, is a holiday which has been celebrated in Wales in some form for centuries, although it was something most Welsh people would have been ignorant about until recently. In the run up to Saint Dwynwen’s day, we see cards appear in supermarkets and events organised in pubs, restaurants and community centres from Aberbeeg to Abersoch. The change in fortunes experienced by this increasingly popular holiday has been mirrored elsewhere, and events from Llywelyn ein llyw olaf Day to Welsh Music Day have grown in visibility and popularity. No event however, has experienced a growth in status more than our national holiday on March the first, Saint David’s day.
Anyone who has grown up in Wales – myself included – will be able to give you a detailed account of what the celebrations on an average Saint David’s day would entail while at school. For me, and millions of other Cymry, it meant attaching a tinfoil-wrapped daffodil or a heavy vegetable to your waistcoat, traipsing to school in the pouring rain or, god forbid, snow and sitting on a hard wooden floor for a morning of heady methodist hymns in a traditional session of singing called a cymanfa ganu and bad poetry in a mini school Eisteddfod. It could be fun at times, but all the while it seemed more like a novelty than a holiday of national significance.
Since my days of floor-sitting in Swansea’s Cwm-rhyd-y-ceirw primary school, Dydd Gwyl Dewi has seemingly begun to venture out of the classroom and chapel hall, and into the streets of our communities, ergo, mainstream narrative surrounding our national identity. On 1st March 2018, for the first time in my life, I spent Saint David’s Day outside of my homeland, on a sixth-form trip in New York. It was a little uncomfortable for me, not being able to partake in the celebrations, but to my surprise, the Welsh flag was flying outside of the famous NYSE; a new tradition for New York. After noticing that, I noticed our tour guide, Shirley, was wearing a daffodil. When I asked her about it she said she was a proud Welsh-American with roots in Torfaen, highlighting to me a growth in visibility of our country and its national holiday overseas. If anything would help Americans find out about Welsh culture and traditions, seeing a troop of forty Gower college students singing calon lan as they walked down 5th Avenue on Saint David’s day would surely be it.
Two years later, on 1st March 2020, I was perhaps even more surprised when I saw stalls pop up in Swansea town centre as part of a Saint David’s day fair. Even in Swansea – the most anglicised of Welsh towns – there is a growing respect for our native traditions and culture, so much so that me and my friends could sit in a tent on Union Street (ironic?) and watch a demonstration on how to make the perfect bara brith hosted by West-Walian GBBO contestant, Michelle Evans-Fecci. Free samples of bara brith – as nice as they are – are just the tip of the iceberg of the revival of Welshness. Across the country, you can see many different ways of celebrating Saint David’s day, from parades in Aberystwyth and Cardiff, to folk dancing sessions, to radio-transmitted Welsh lessons, poetry sessions, and performances of our national instrument, the Telyn.
If you, like me, are a young Welsh person with a burgeoning sense of patriotism, you might be at a loss for things to do this Saint David’s day but I can assure you of an abundance of covid-safe activities. With a frying pan, a gentle hand and some patience, you can try your hand at making Picau ar y maen or you could even learn some traditional Welsh songs and host your own cymanfa ganu. If that doesn’t take your fancy, you could join the millions learning Welsh on duolingo, or even book a Welsh course with the government website, learnwelsh.cymru.
Swansea University History Society