Take a leek

It’s March 1st, St. David’s Day — the Welsh national holiday. A memorable day in several ways, and one dear to me.

In a previous life, I worked on Welsh (in Ohio — don’t disparage the Welsh diaspora in the U.S. — and in Wales, with great pleasure), but disuse has meant that the language has withered away for me. Still, I’ve published several pieces on it, and I think it’s a truly cool language. (Pretty much any linguist who works on language X comes to think X is a really cool language. Which is just as it should be.)

For some account of St. David’s Day, the festival of the national saint (Dewi Sant), see the National Museum of Wales site, from which I’ve extracted these notes on three national symbols:

According to tradition, the red dragon appeared on a crest born by Arthur, whose father, Uthr Bendragon [a.k.a. Uther Pendragon], had seen a dragon in the sky predicting that he would be king.

… Both the sixth-century poet Taliesin and the thirteenth-century Red Book of Hergest extol the virtues of the leek, which, if eaten, encouraged good health and happiness. Small wonder, therefore, that a national respect grew around this plant, which was worn by the Welsh in the Battle of Crecy, and by 1536, when Henry VIII gave a leek to his daughter on 1 March, was already associated with St David’s Day. It is possible that the green and white family colours adopted by the Tudors were taken from their liking for the leek.

In comparison with the ancient Welsh associations of the leek, the daffodil has only recently assumed a position of national importance. An increasingly popular flower during the 19th century, especially among women, its status was elevated by the Welsh-born prime minister David Lloyd George, who wore it on St David’s Day and used it in ceremonies in 1911 to mark the investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarfon.

Images of the fierce red dragon (on the Welsh national flag), the delicious and healthful leek, and the beautiful spring daffodil (now in full bloom all around me here in Palo Alto):

I’ve been a fan of the leek for many decades. Leeks and potatoes go together especially well, in pies and in hot soups. Or more elegantly, in a chilled soup, vichyssoise (which seems to be a 20th-century invention, in France or, more likely, the U.S.).

I’m sort of a nut about vichyssoise. I think it was the first cold soup I experienced, when I was in high school (50+ years ago) back in Pennsylvania Dutch country (where it was very much not native), probably at the hands of Helen Green, my high school girlfriend’s mother. (Gazpacho came a bit later. I still adore them both.)

So I think of today as Welsh Pride Day and Vichyssoise Day, all rolled into one. And now Daffodil Day as well. And Welsh people gather to sing (on this day especially, though any day will do).

What a fabulous holiday.

7 Responses to “Take a leek”

  1. Dick Margulis Says:

    In my youth, I worked as a bread baker in Utica NY for a man named Morgan, of Welsh heritage. We made a small batch of bara brith once a week year-round, but we made a pile of it for St. David’s day.

    Later, I participated in a fall arts and crafts festival every year held in Remsen NY, a small dairy farming village north of Utica, where the red dragon was much in prominence. I asked once why town was so rich in Welsh heritage. The story I was told was that some early settlers (who may have arrived there more or less at random) had written glowing reports back home, to their coal-mining village, to invite folks to join them. The purported reaction of their fellows’ arriving to the U.S. was rendered in the stock retelling as: “If this be New York City, what can Remsen City be!”

  2. ella Says:

    I grew up with a more British, hot version of vichyssoise. Cock-a-leekie soup. 🙂

  3. Joseph F Foster Says:

    Bore da, Phawb, ac Arnold

    A diolch yn fawr!

    ‘Goodmorning, everybody, and Arnold, and Thank you very much!’

    The daffodils aren’t blooming yet here in Ohio, but they are up in our back yard along the stone wall. Re your reference to the Welsh diaspora into Ohio, readers might be interested in knowing that there was quite an extensive Welsh settlement into SE Ohio, NW of Gallipolis (or ‘Call the Police’, as the natives say!). It is said that one could hear Welsh spoken on the streets and in shops in Centerville as late as the 1940s. There is a thriving Center of Welsh Studies at Rio Grande [rayo grænd ] University, aka Prifysgol Afon Fawr, in, Rio Grande and there are numerous old Welsh Methodist Churches and cemeteries in the area. A second, not as large, area of Welsh settlement was in the Ross area in SW Ohio, in Butler County, NW of Cincinnati, and in Shandon, there is a Welsh B & B, whose maitre d’hotel is, you guessed it, a Dwarf Dog — Corgi — named Croeso ‘Welshman’, who greets guests and herds them back to where they’re supposed to go.

  4. Joseph F Foster Says:

    Wps!. Mae’r enw y corgi Cymro, dim Croeso!.
    ‘Oops. The corgi’s name is Cymro, not Croeso! I was getting ahead of myself — Croeso!means ‘Welcome!’.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Quick correction, Joe. And it brought us Wps!. Note to readers: the letter W is used to spell the vowel [u]; the exclamation is a borrowing of English Oops!.

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