Though a part of the United Kingdom since 1282 and in close proximity to England, the nation of Wales has managed to preserve its own distinctive culture, including its language, holidays and music.
Wales is primarily represented by the Welsh Dragon, but other national emblems include the leek and daffodil. The Welsh words for leeks (cennin) and daffodils (cennin Pedr, lit. "(Saint) Peter's Leeks") are closely related and it is likely that one of the symbols came to be used due to a misunderstanding for the other one, though it is less clear which came first.
The patron saint of Wales is Saint David, Dewi Sant in Welsh. St. David's Day is celebrated throughout the country on March 1st, which some people argue should be a public holiday in Wales (although others disagree). Other days which have been proposed for public commemorations are September 16 (the day on which Owain Glyn Dwr's rebellion began) and December 11 (the death of Llywelyn the Last).
However, the traditional seasonal festivals in Wales were Calan Gaeaf (Halloween-type holiday on the first day of winter), Calan Mai, and Midsummer. Additionally, each parish celebrated a Gwyl Mabsant in commemoration of its native saint.
Main article: Music of Wales
Wales is often known by the phrase "the Land of Song" (Welsh: Gwlad y Gân) and its people have a renowned affinity for poetry and music.
Perhaps the most well-known musical image of Wales is that of the choir, in particular the male voice choir (Welsh: cor meibion). While this is certainly a part (though of greatly diminished importance) of the current musical life of the nation, it is by no means the only or the oldest part, and the choral tradition does not really stretch back significantly beyond its heyday in the 19th century.
Much older is the tradition of instrumental folk music. The harp has been closely associated with Wales for a very long time, and one kind of harp, the triple harp is uniquely Welsh. Other specifically Welsh instruments included the crwth and the pibgorn, though both fell out of general use by the end of the 18th century. Due to Nonconformist Christian disapproval, the instrumental folk tradition fell into decline through the 19th and early 20th centuries, but has since seen a revival and is now arguably as strong as ever. The principal instruments are the harp and the fiddle, but many other instruments are used, and both the crwth and pibgorn are again being played by a small but growing number of people.
Wales also has a long tradition of folk song which, like the instrumental tradition, and for the same reasons, was long in decline but is now flourishing again. One notable kind of Welsh song is cerdd dant which, loosely, is an improvised performance following quite strict rules in which poetry is sung to one tune against the accompaniment of (usually) a harp to a different tune.
In the mid- to late 1990s new Welsh music became unexpectedly fashionable, with the chart successes of bands including Manic Street Preachers, Catatonia and Stereophonics. These groups helped the media at the time invent the epithet "Cool Cymru", an answer to Britpop's "Cool Britannia ". Prior to that, Welsh acts including The Alarm , Shakin' Stevens and Bonnie Tyler had all had high profiles, but there had never been much of a movement.
Around this time, groups such as Super Furry Animals and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci rose to popularity, and artists such as Tom Jones, John Cale, and Shirley Bassey had something of a renaissance.
The Welsh music industry is currently in good health, with boundless creativity from many lesser known groups, and labels such as Ankstmusik, Crai , and Boobytrap . And, in recent years, a large alternative and punk scene has sprung up from the Valleys towns in south Wales, of which Lostprophets and Funeral For A Friend have achieved notable international success. PFS from Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, West Wales created their own disturbing punk sound in 1978, and in 2003 they signed to Grand Theft Audio Records in Los Angeles, USA. They were once dubbed the "Welsh Sex Pistols" due to their attitude towards the music establishment in the UK.
The national sport of Wales is rugby union.
Main article: Rugby union in Wales
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13