This past weekend, on July 30th, Wales kicked off its annual National Eisteddfod in a field in Wrexham. If you’re not from Wales, you may be asking yourself: What, exactly, is an Eisteddfod?
Basically, it’s a yearly festival celebrating Welsh language, literature and culture. Originally, it was a gathering of bards, where poets and musicians came to test their skills against one another. The first such event that we know of was held by Lord Rhys of Cardigan in 1176.
Today, the National Eisteddfod not only includes poetry, literature, dance and musical performances, but also features exhibits devoted to science and technology and booths where Welsh artisans can peddle their wares. The location changes every year, but it is always held in the countryside. The main fairground is known as the maes.
The proceedings are held entirely in the Welsh language, and crowns and chairs are awarded to the best artists. The festival has a traditionally “Welsh” feel to it: The awards ceremonies are conducted by an official called the Archdruid and if there isn’t already an ancient stone circle in the vicinity, festival organizers used to build one for the occasion. However, in recent years plastic “stones” have been used instead.
But don’t be deceived- the festival may celebrate Wales’ ancient heritage, but it’s more that just a Renaissance festival. Welsh bands of all genres get a chance to strut their stuff, and dance competitions are just as likely to include hip-hop and disco as they are to include traditional Welsh folk dancing.
This year’s festival runs through the sixth of August, and is being held on Lower Berse Farm near Wrexham.
According to the National Eisteddfod website, the opening weekend was a smashing success:
By the end of Sunday, 36,621 people had visited the Maes on the land at Lower Berse Farm in Wrexham, and according to Elfed Roberts, Festival Chief Executive:
“We are happy with the initial response to the Eisteddfod in Wrexham. Visitor figures have been positive, and higher than this period for most of the last few years, which is very encouraging.”