Home Thoughts from Abroad
“Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed. But here a small boy says: “It snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.”
– From A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas
Christmas is a time for looking back, for remembering. We remember the fairy stories about a virgin giving birth in a stable, about angels in the sky appearing to shepherds, about a baby who was going to be cruelly killed to take away the sins of mankind.
We look back and remember the sickly-sweet Victorian Christmas carols that even now tug at the heart. For me, even now, Christmas starts with the festival of nine lessons and carols from King’s. The boy treble singing, unaccompanied Once in Royal David’s City – that’s for me when the magic begins.
I also find myself looking back, thinking about my family, their lives and where they came from. I think about Wales.
In a recent email my mother mentioned an old Welsh lullaby, Suo Gân. It has been sung at a carol concert she attended. Here it is performed by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge:
Not remembering the lyrics I looked them up. One line is Ar Lan y Môr (Beside the Sea), which is, of course, the title of a beautiful Welsh folk song about love, here performed by Bethan Myfanwy Hughes:
This made me think of Max Boyce who also sings this song. He’s a highly successful Welsh singer/songwriter/comedian, whose popularity probably peaked in the 70s, but still performs to packed houses around the world. Carols from Kings wasn’t yet available for download, so I downloaded one of Max Boyce’s albums to listen to on Christmas morn.
In Thailand, when people ask me where I’m from, I always say “Wales”, which is usually greeted with a look of blank incomprehension. I then say “next to England”. They seem to have heard of England. It would be easier for me to say I come from England in the first place, but I’m proud to be Welsh and I thank the invisible magician in the sky that I wasn’t born English.
This song by Max Boyce, Duw It’s Hard, reminds me about how Wales was treated by the English not that long ago:
It’s the Season of Goodwill, so I won’t go on about Thatcher’s campaign of hatred against the miners. I won’t mention the brutal suppression in Tonypandy of protesters seeking a living wage a hundred years ago. I won’t write about the myriad other oppressions of the people of Wales by the English elite across the centuries – oppressions large and small. I’ll sign off by wishing you one and all Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda – Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.