Joined: 30 May 2013
|Posted: Sun Mar 02, 2014 4:45 pm Post subject: How to celebrate our national day?
|Apparently, the first St Patrick's Day Parade in the world took place in New York in 1895. The custom soon spread to the old country and al over the Irish diaspora.
I heard a Mancunian in an Abergavenny pub, wondering why the Welsh didn't put the same zing into St David's Day. Well, now we do. For ten years we've had St David's Day parades in Cardiff and other places.
I think it's Tony Blair's fault, not ours, that's it's not a public holiday as St Andrew's Day is in Scotland.
One place which didn't traditionally stint on the celebrations was school. I remember our class putting on a little sketch based a nursery rhyme about an old woman from Cidweli.
In those days the leeks and daffodils the kids wore were not usually made out of felt. They were often real. Before the end of the day the leek wearers would have eaten their leeks. The daffodil wearers often ate their daffodils too, and then they would be sick because daffodils are poisonous.
But that wasn't the only reason I found the atmosphere close and stifling. I couldn't see why people should be proud to have been born in a particular place. It's literally an accident of birth. You could have been born anywhere.
It was particularly meaningless for me as I grew up in a home where adults had a very limited concept of the importance of communicating with children. I didn't even find out what country we were living in until I was eight. I was ashamed of not knowing but couldn't bring myself to ask.
If you asked my son Byron as a small child which country we were living in, he would confidently say 'Wales.' But when I was a child, we would have hesitated to classify Wales as a country. That would have been presumptuous.
No doubt, I was an exceptionally obtuse child, but I wonder what other kids made of these exhortations to be proud to be Welsh. Patriotism really can be the last resort of the scoundrel. It has a very dark side. It's great to keep our old songs and traditions going as a form of defiance as we have been subjected to what was supposed to be cultural genocide and it might yet succeed.
But if this had not happened we wouldn't bother to think about our nationality any more than we would think about our eye colour. George Bernard Shaw said a health country is no more aware of its nationality than a healthy man is aware of his bones. It's only when they start playing up that you notice them.
I seem to remember that when we reached secondary school age, St David's Day -or was it Prize Day?-was in part devoted to turgid lectures from invited speakers. So somebody came to tell us that he wouldn't sell his father's gold watch for anything.
Furthermore, once when he was a boy in the Neolithic era, he was put in detention for being one minute late. He said how grateful he felt to his headmaster because he'd always been punctual ever since. We were vacuous enough to be impressed, but it doesn't now seem a good way to spend the afternoon.
I suppose it's less heavy in schools now. The Sun rarely has anything good to say about Wales, but one Sun journalist was impressed by what he saw in a Welsh primary school on St David's Day. The kids were all in costume or rugby strip, and were singing raucously and happily. He thought the same national spirit should be imported to England. Why didn't the English celebrate St George's Day with the same zest or indeed at all?
One of the most unexpected outcomes of devolution is the rise of specifically English national feeling. Before that, the English used the words English and British interchangeably and were happy to wave the Union flag. You never saw a St George's Cross. I can understand that the English would now think of celebrating St George's Day because they're feeling slightly insecure.
I tend to disagree with the journalist here. I think the English ignored St George's Day not because they had no pride but because they were so confident that they didn't need to. They were no more aware of their nationality than a healthy man is aware of his bones.
Of course, they can celebrate it if they want. It's a bonus that it falls on Shakespeare's birthday so they could combine two celebrations there. My adoptive mother who grew up in London had heard vaguely that English national costume for a woman was supposed to be Nell Gwyn costume. If they bothered to wear it, it would be a good day for breast men. I can only visualise Nell Gwyn from a portrait where she is wearing a top that exposes her breasts almost as low as the nipples.
For men, costumes with Van Dyke collars have been suggested. I can remember Dr David Starkey favouring the idea. By the time he appeared on Question Time and was asked about it, he'd changed his mind. He sneered that this nineteenth century cultural renewal was fine for feeble little nations like the Scots and the Welsh; the English didn't need it.
Setting the childish insult on one side, I can see his point. But I don't know if it's going to continue to apply. If the Scots go independent, I don't think the English will feel confident and insouciant after that.