St David’s Day is an affirmation of all that is good about our country
In an exclusive article for Endeavour Public Affairs to mark St David’s Day, Andrew RT Davies AM writes that St David’s Day has a growing significance in the national calendar and has undergone something of a renaissance in the last ten to fifteen years; coinciding with a revival in Welsh cultural confidence.
Andrew RT Davies is the Welsh Conservative Member of the Welsh Assembly for South Wales Central and is Leader of the Welsh Conservative Party.
To follow Andrew RT Davies on Twitter – @AndrewRTDavies
For some of us being Welsh is the feeling we get when recalling Scott Gibbs’ famous try against England at Wembley. For others it’s the Stereophonics at Morfa in 1999, a recital of Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas, or a stroll through the Brecon Beacons on a crisp Sunday morning. I’m proud to say that our national heritage is rich and varied.
Whatever being Welsh means to you, St David’s Day is an affirmation of all that is good about our country, and its significance to Welsh life cannot be underestimated.
St David’s Day is a chance to celebrate the cultural significance of Welsh heritage and national identity, and a great opportunity for the country to get people thinking in different ways about how their own Welsh identity manifests itself. However, it is clear that we need to take steps to protect its status in the Welsh calendar.
The Welsh Conservatives have long called for the designation of St David’s Day as a national holiday and this would reaffirm the day’s significance both at home and abroad. It would also have an immense cultural and social impact throughout Wales – encouraging patriotism, a greater understanding of Welsh history, and our place in the wider history of the United Kingdom.
I will never forget my earliest memories of St David’s Day as a child when the normal school day would be replaced by the eisteddfod, a traditional celebration of culture and creativity, dating back to the 12th century. This was a special day for children, not only because it meant having half a day off school, but because it focused our minds from a very early age on the many wonderful aspects of Welsh culture and heritage.
We should be relieved that interest in the day of our patron saint has never faced the same challenges as St George’s Day in England. St David’s Day may never be as grand as the Rio Carnival and it doesn’t need to be, but we could do worse than to learn from our Celtic cousins in terms of making the most of our national day of celebration.
Former First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, once reflected on the glazed look that comes over Americans when you try to explain to them that Wales isn’t just an English region. Ask an American about the Irish and they’ll easily reel off a list including the ‘craic’, Guinness, and St Patrick’s Day, but it’s fair to say that the Welsh aren’t as clearly defined in the American consciousness. Obviously Ireland has more to offer than a night on the stout in fake ginger beards, but as cultural signifiers go nothing says patriotic pride quite like St Patrick’s Day.
I’m not suggesting for a second that we turn St David’s Day into a night of fancy dress and plastic beer glasses – we have the Six Nations for that – but we should recognise St David’s Day as our own opportunity to place Wales’ unique cultural history proudly on the world stage.
In the past, the Welsh Labour Government has admitted that it has failed to properly promote Wales on the international stage and we must take every available opportunity to sell our achievements to the world. Designating St David’s Day as a national holiday would be a significant step in the right direction.
The worldwide celebrations surrounding St Patrick’s Day also bring huge economic benefits for Northern Ireland and the Republic and we need to emulate that success with our own national day, without diluting the integrity of the ‘Welsh brand’. St David’s Day is an opportunity to put Wales in the spotlight, boosting our profile as a tourist destination and supporting efforts to secure trade and inward investment.
The day itself has a growing significance in the national calendar and has undergone something of a renaissance in the last ten to fifteen years; coinciding with a revival in Welsh cultural confidence – or ‘Cool Cymru’ as the media crudely dubbed this phenomenon.
For a small country, Wales produces an impressive range of cultural icons and I have no doubt that this is due to the fact that the creative instinct in us all is nurtured from a very early age. Consider the global profile of writers such as Roald Dahl and Dylan Thomas; actors like Michael Sheen and Catherine Zeta-Jones; or singers including Tom Jones and Katherine Jenkins.
We have a deep reservoir of talented Welsh men and women, products of a cultural life that is vibrant in both languages and supported by an excellent range of galleries, theatres, museums and libraries. St David’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate that creative heritage and we must do everything we can to ensure that it continues to play a vital role in Welsh life.
Published: Friday 28 February 2014
© Copyright of Endeavour Public Affairs 2014
Photograph: © Copyright of Andrew RT Davies AM
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone.