The first day of March – St David’s Day – is always a joyful day in the harbour town of Porthmadog in north-west Wales. Children dress up in traditional outfits – or Welsh sports strips – while adults wear daffodils and families get together for a traditional supper. It feels like warmer, brighter days are around the corner.
But the Welsh patron saint’s day is likely to be celebrated with particular vigour this year after Gwynedd council defied the UK government and declared it an extra bank holiday for about 5,000 of its staff.
“It’s a very good thing,” said Porthmadog library assistant Anne Roberts, one of those who will enjoy an extra day off. “This is a predominantly Welsh-speaking area. We are very proud of our country, our culture, our heritage. Lots of visitors seem to think we are just a part of England. This is a way of standing up to that, of celebrating our Welshness.”
While other Celtic nations in the UK have a day off to celebrate their patron saints, Wales does not. Some citizens take it off anyway – the Welsh actor Richard Burton, for one, did not like the idea of working on St David’s Day.
But Gwynedd council, which is controlled by Plaid Cymru, decided it ought to be a holiday for everyone and wrote to the UK government, which has responsibility for bank holidays in England and Wales, asking for its blessing.
The answer was a firm no, with a junior minister writing back that it would have a negative impact on business, so the council’s cabinet this week decided to go it alone. While it cannot order that everyone be given the day off, it ruled that its workers would be given an extra bank holiday.
Nia Jeffreys, the cabinet member for corporate support and the member for Porthmadog East, said there had been “massive” support throughout Wales and messages of solidarity from around the world.
She admitted there were some who questioned the cost (an estimated £200,000) but said her argument was that the two bank holidays that have been arranged to mark the Queen’s platinum jubilee this year would – obviously – cost double that.
Jeffreys said she thought making more of St David’s Day could boost the economy by bringing more visitors in. “But it’s about allowing us to celebrate our country, our values,” she said.
Business owners said they would think about giving their staff time off. “It could be good for business,” said Jolene Barton, who runs the Porthmadog company Babipur, selling ethical products for babies and children. “It can be a way of bringing staff together.”
Mechanic Garun Roberts said he and his family usually got together for a Welsh stew on St David’s Day. “This is putting Gwynedd on the map. It’s a good thing,” he said.
Because teachers’ terms and conditions are negotiated across England and Wales, the schools in Gwynedd will not be able to close for the extra day. “That may be a good thing,” said Llywela Jones, whose eight-year-old son Tomos used to wear a waistcoat and flat cap on St David’s Day but now prefers his Welsh football shirt. “The schools do a nice job of celebrating the day. The children have a good time with their classmates.”
But the issue is unlikely to stop here. Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader is planning to raise the subject in the House of Commons. She said: “Plaid Cymru has made the argument to successive Westminster governments that people in Wales deserve to be able to celebrate our national day properly, and we’ve been refused each time.
“I commend Gwynedd for showing the leadership to act decisively. I can’t think of a better year to start giving workers a holiday after the last 24 months of the Covid pandemic.”
Cian Ciarán, the keyboard player with the revered Welsh band Super Furry Animals, who was born in Gwynedd and is a passionate supporter of independence, said he hoped other councils would do the same. “This is an unequal, divided and imposed union, it’s about time people woke up to that fact and sought self-determination. I would call on all councils in Wales to follow suit, to stand with them in solidarity.”
In Porthmadog, florist Susan Owen is getting ready for another special event on Tuesday – St Dwynwen’s Day, a Welsh version of St Valentine’s Day. “Of course we should mark these days for our country, our language, our sense of togetherness. It’s so important.”