The first of March means little to most people and most nations but there are a few for whom this is a special day.
The 1st of March, St David’s day, is celebrated by the Welsh all over the world. St David is the patron saint of Wales and every year on the first of March he is remembered. His biggest known ‘miracle’ occurred at Llandewi Brefi (now better known from little Britain’s only gay in the village sketch) when he laid a handkerchief down on the ground and it rose beneath his feet so all around could hear. Unlike some other saints, David was born, lived and died in Wales.
St David’s day has been transformed from a religious event to a celebration of Wales, being Welsh and all things and people Welsh. It is a day when we remember who we are and where we come from.
‘Cambria will not yield’ echoes around Wales in the spirit of the people and for brief moments (such as those 80 minutes every Feb/March when we play the old enemy in the 6 nations) we really feel like we are different from our Anglo-Saxon neighbours. We feel proud of what we have achieved as such a small nation and look forward to the future with high hopes for next February and beyond.
The tide of patriotism that sweeps the nation soon subsides and we go back to living our normal lives but the ‘ddraig coch’, the spirit of the red dragon is always lurking on lapel badges, in words we use that seem as foreign to our English neighbours as any other language, Cwtch being a particular one I have trouble with and with the feeling that boils up inside us every time someone says ‘Wales, that’s in England isn’t it?’. There is also the proud and competitive streak that surfaces every time Wales is mentioned on the news or a Welsh person is being praised anywhere in the world for anything!
The day is usually celebrated with school children dressing up in traditional costume and the people wearing either or both of the national symbols of Wales, the leek and the daffodil. Although St David’s day isn’t a bank holiday yet, it is a national holiday, although that could change as a poll conducted by the BBC on March 1st last year found that 87% of people questioned would be in favour of making St David’s day a public holiday.
With a population of only 3 million people you might think St David’s would be a rather quiet affair, passing by without the world taking much notice, but you would be wrong. Last year the Empire state building, the tallest building in New York illuminated its upper portion in the colours of the Welsh flag to celebrate the day and remember the Welsh contribution to the US.
New York will again celebrate Wales and St David’s day with another annual Welsh week taking place from the 23rd of Feb. to the 3rd of March (http://www.walesinny.com/)
March the first is also celebrated in other countries round the world including Bosnia and Herzegovina where it is Independence Day, Iceland where it is called Beer day because it was this day in 1989 that beer became lawful again and Romania and Moldova where Mrci_or is a seasonal holiday.
The 1st of March is also celebrated in Korea.
Samil Jeol (literally meaning 3/1 day) or Independence movement day is a national holiday in South Korea and serves to remind everyone of the occupation of Korea by Japan and the struggle for independence that ensued after the movement began. The death of emperor Gojong was a symbolic and decisive moment in Korean history as his death brought to an end the Joseon dynasty and with it the death of one of the remaining symbols of the Korean nation.
Instigated directly or indirectly by Woodrow Wilson, whose fourteen-point speech formed the basis for the German surrender of WW1, Korean students in Tokyo drafted their own statement demanding independence from Japan.
This reached the Korean underground movement and the wheels of revolution were in motion.
On St David’s day 1919 the declaration was read aloud in public at several locations throughout Korea and an uprising gathered pace until it was finally put down 12 months later.
It was enough however to lead to the formation of the provisional government of the Republic of Korea (which was at this time in exile in China) and later the KLA (Korean liberation army). WW2 proved to be an opportunity to declare war on Japan and the KLA took part in allied operations in China and other parts of south East Asia. With Japan eventually surrendering, the battle was won and Korea was born. Although independence day proper is also celebrated in Korea on the 15th of August, Samil Jeol is recognised and celebrated as the day when independence was conceived.
Wales and Korea have few ties directly, there are a few notable and infamous examples however: Various industries have come and unfortunately gone (notably LG who only last year announced their departure from Newport in South Wales as a competitive market forced production costs down), A Welshman, Robert Jermain Thomas, was the first Protestant martyr in Korea; he was killed in 1866 in North Korea and Traditional music dance troupes from South Korea come to perform at the LLangollen International Musical Eisteddfod.
We do however have a few cultural ties or at least similarities. Both countries are mountainous, small nations when compared to their neighbours and both have been the subject of invasion and cultural suppression at the hands of ‘foreign hoards’. Notable because of its freshness in the minds of the Korean people was the occupation by Japan and the subsequent attempts to erase Korean culture and language from history. Koreans were forced to adopt Japanese names and live as Japanese citizens, much the same as the Welsh had to endure their language being outlawed by the English. The industrial revolution, while good for some led to an influx of English migrants into Wales and a dilution of the language. Migrants seldom learnt to speak Welsh and their Welsh colleagues tended to speak English to them. The legal status of Welsh was inferior to that of English and so English came to prevail in all but the most rural areas.
While around only 20 percent of Wales currently speak Welsh, the story is a little different in Korea. Korea not only survived, but thrived and can now boast a thriving economy, production of some of the most advanced technologies around and a language spoken by the whole country which has its own comeration day, Hangul day on the 9th of October.
With the rugby world cup in France fast approaching, Korea were one game away from qualifying. A play off game with Tonga was all that stood between them and a place in England’s group in the tournament, which is due to kick off in September. Rugby is not at all popular in Korea compared to other sports and as a Welshman living here it is sometimes frustrating to have to listen to great tries being scored on internet radio (it can also be a blessing as currently a lot of tries are being scored at the wrong end), hopefully rugby will begin to appear on the radar of Korean sports fans who are as patriotic (almost) and blindly biased as the Welsh when it comes to supporting their nation and everything in it. Unfortunately Korea were hammered by Tonga, 83-3 and so their rugby world cup debut will have to wait.
March the 1st will be celebrated by both nations for different reasons but one thing will be true of both, St David’s day or Independence Day will bring a sweeping tide of nationalism across these two small nations and for a Welshman in Korea it will be a welcome and familiar feeling.
Finally, probably the oddest connection between these two peninsula nations is the production of a set of commemorative stamps to celebrate the wedding of the Prince of Wales to Diana Spencer in 1981 currently for sale on e bay!
Whilst anti Japanese feelings run high in Korea the Welsh have come to accept our neighbours across the Bristol Channel as brothers, just from that distant arm of the family nobody mentions anymore.