Welsh traditions and customs

What traditions and customs are there in Wales?

In the United Kingdom, the customs and traditions of Wales.


Food in daily life

The importance of agriculture to the Welsh economy, as well as the availability of local produce, has created high dietary standards and a national diet based on fresh, natural foods.

In coastal areas, fishing and shellfish are important both for the economy and for the local gastronomy. The type of food available in Wales is similar to that found in the rest of the UK and includes a variety of foods from other cultures and nations.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

Special traditional Welsh dishes include lavender bread, a seaweed dish; the crawl, a rich broth; bara brith, a traditional cake; and the pice ar and maen, Welsh pastries.

Traditional dishes are served on special occasions and holidays. Local markets and fairs often offer regional products and baked goods. Wales is particularly known for its cheeses and meats. Welsh rabbit, also called Welsh rarebit, a dish of melted cheese mixed with ale, beer, milk and spices served on toast, has been popular since the early 18th century.


Religious beliefs

Religion has played an important role in the formation of Welsh culture. Protestantism, that is, Anglicanism, began to gather more support after Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church.

On the eve of the English Civil War in 1642 Puritanism, practiced by Oliver Cromwell and his supporters, was widespread in the border counties of Wales and in Pembrokeshire.

Welsh monarchists, who supported the king and Anglicanism, were stripped of their property, causing much resentment among non-Puritan Welshmen. In 1650 the Propagation of the Gospel in Wales Act was passed, which took over political and religious life.

During the period known as the Interregnum, when Cromwell was in power, a number of non-Anglican, or Dissenting, Protestant congregations were formed which were to have a significant influence on modern Welsh life.

The most religiously and socially radical were the Quakers, who had a large following in Montgomeryshire and Merioneth, eventually extending their influence to such areas as the Anglican border counties and Welsh-speaking areas in the North and West.

The Quakers, who were not very fond of the other dissenting churches and the Anglican Church, were severely repressed, with the result that large numbers were forced to emigrate to the American colonies. Other churches, such as the Baptist and Congregationalist, which were Calvinist in theology, grew and found many followers in rural communities and small towns.

In the latter part of the 18th century many Welsh people converted to Methodism after a revival movement in 1735. Methodism was supported within the established Anglican Church and was originally organized through local societies governed by a central association.

The influence of the original dissenting churches, combined with the spiritual revival of Methodism, gradually moved Welsh society away from Anglicanism. Conflicts in leadership and chronic poverty made it difficult for the church to grow, but the popularity of Methodism eventually helped establish it permanently as the most widespread denomination.

Methodist and other dissenting churches were also responsible for an increase in literacy through church-sponsored schools that promoted education as a way to spread religious doctrine.

Today, the followers of Methodism continue to constitute the largest religious group. The Anglican Church, or the Church of England, is the second largest sect, followed by the Roman Catholic Church. There are also much smaller numbers of Jews and Muslims.

Breakaway Protestant sects, and religion in general, played very important roles in modern Welsh society, but the number of people who regularly participated in religious activities decreased significantly after the Second World War.

Rituals and sacred places

St David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire is the nation’s most important holy site. David, the patron saint of Wales, was a religious crusader who came to Wales in the 6th century to spread Christianity and convert the Welsh tribes.

He died in the year 589 on March 1, now celebrated as Saint David’s Day, a national holiday. His remains are buried in the cathedral.

Secular celebrations

During the 19th century, Welsh intellectuals began to promote national culture and traditions, starting a revival of Welsh folk culture. Over the last century, these celebrations have grown into major events and Wales now hosts a number of music and literary festivals of international importance.

The Hay Festival of Literature, from May 24 to June 4, in the town of Hay-on-Wye, attracts thousands of people annually, as does the Brecon Jazz Festival, from August 11 to 13. The most important Welsh secular celebration, however, is the Eisteddfod cultural gathering which celebrates music, poetry and storytelling.

The Eisteddfod has its origins in the 12th century, when it was essentially a meeting held by Welsh bards for the exchange of information. Held irregularly and in different locations, the Eisteddfod was attended by poets, musicians and minstrels, all of whom played an important role in medieval Welsh culture.

By the 18th century the tradition had become less cultural and more social, often degenerating into gatherings in drunken taverns, but in 1789 the Gwyneddigion Society revived the Eisteddfod as a competitive festival. However, it was Edward Williams, also known as Iolo Morgannwg, who sparked Welsh interest in the Eisteddfod in the 19th century.

Williams actively promoted the Eisteddfod among the Welsh community living in London, often giving dramatic speeches on the meaning of Welsh culture and the importance of continuing ancient Celtic traditions.

The revival of the Eisteddfod in the 19th century and the rise of Welsh nationalism, combined with a romanticized image of ancient Welsh history, led to the creation of Welsh ceremonies and rituals that may not have any historical basis.

The Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, held July 4-9, and the Llanelli Royal National Eisteddfod, which includes Welsh folk art and poetry, held August 5-12, are the two largest secular celebrations. Other smaller folk and cultural festivals are held throughout the year.

The arts and humanities

Arts support

The traditional importance of music and poetry has fostered a general appreciation and support for all the arts. Throughout Wales there is strong public support for the arts, which are seen as important to the national culture. Financial support comes from both the private and public sectors.

The Welsh Arts Council (Welsh Arts Council) provides government assistance for literature, art, music and drama. The council also organizes tours of foreign theater groups in Wales and awards grants to writers for English and Welsh publications.


Literature and poetry occupy an important place in Wales for historical and linguistic reasons. Welsh culture was based on an oral tradition of legends, myths and folk tales passed down from generation to generation. The most famous bardic poets, Taliesin and Aneirin, wrote epic poems about Welsh events and legends around the 7th century.

The rise of literacy in the 18th century and the concern of Welsh intellectuals with the preservation of language and culture gave rise to modern Welsh literature.

As industrialization and anglicisation began to threaten traditional Welsh culture, efforts were made to promote the language, preserve Welsh poetry, and encourage Welsh writers. Dylan Thomas, however, the best-known Welsh poet of the 20th century, wrote in English.

Literary festivals and competitions help keep this tradition alive, as does the continued promotion of Welsh, the Celtic language with the largest number of speakers today.

However, the influence of other cultures, combined with the ease of communication through the media, both within the UK and in other parts of the world, continually undermine efforts to preserve a purely Welsh form of literature.

Performing arts

Singing is the most important of the performing arts in Wales and is rooted in ancient traditions. Music was both entertainment and a means of telling stories. Welsh National Opera, supported by the Welsh Arts Council, is one of Britain’s leading opera companies.

Wales is famous for its all-male choirs, which have evolved from the religious choral tradition. Traditional instruments such as the harp are still widely played and since 1906 the Welsh Folk Song Society has preserved, collected and published traditional songs. The Welsh Theater Company is critically acclaimed and Wales has produced many internationally famous actors.

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