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Wales

Wales is the country in the west of Great Britain. It is mainly a mountainous land with a chiefly agricultural economy and an industrial and coal-mining area in the south. The landscape is beautiful. Many English people move to Wales when they retire.

Cardiff, a large city in the south, was chosen as the capital of Wales in 1955, mainly because of its size. Since 1536, Wales has been governed by England and the heir to the throne of England has the title of Prince of Wales, but Welsh people have strong sense of identity. There is a Welsh National party which wants independence from the United Kingdom and the Welsh language is still used in certain parts of the country.

Welsh is an ancient Celtic language, similar to Breton, spoken in Brittany, France. In the 60’s Welsh was given equal status with English as an official language and is used in the law courts. It is taught in school and some TV program is broadcast in Welsh. However, only about 20% of the population speaks Welsh.



St. David’s Day (1st March)

Dewi (“David” in English), was the son of a Welsh chieftain. He was brought up as a Christian and went abroad to learn more about the life of a monk. Then he returned to Wales and founded many monasteries which became centers of religion and learning in the Welsh countryside. The monks lived a simple life of player, growing their own herbs and vegetables and offering generous hospitality to anyone in need. Because David’s holiness and his inspiring teaching, he was made a bishop. The center of his bishopric was in the settlement we now know as St. David’s on the Western tip of the country of Dyfed.

David is thought to have died on 1st march, AD 589, and his shrine at St. David’s was a place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages. Later, when people of North and South Wales became one nation, he was chosen as the patron saint of Wales.

A legend tells how David suggested that his people should wear a leek in their bonnets during battles so that they could be easily recognized; Welsh Guards are still distinguished by a green and white plume in their black bearskins. At Windsor, on the Sunday nearest St. David’s day, it is now a tradition that every member of the Brigade of Welsh Guards is given a leek by a member of the Royal Family. However, as St. David’ Day is celebrated at the beginning of Spring when daffodils, are blooming, this flower has become a second, more graceful emblem of Wales. David’s own emblem is a dove.

It is said that David had a sweet singing voice. He encouraged his monks to sing as well as possible for the glory of God, and perhaps this was the beginning of the Welsh tradition of fine made-voice choirs.

Many churches are dedicated to David in southwest Wales, and if you are traveling there, you might visit the cathedral at St. David’s. Other places too are called after the saint, and you may visit Llandewi or Capel Dewi or Ffynor Dewi
The Welsh "national" costume

Seen on the dolls and postcards is largely a myth created for tourism. Certainly, the seventeenth-century country women wore long coloured skirts, a white apron and a tall black hat, but so did English women at that time. In the nineteenth century, the idea of a national costume was born and this pleased both tourists and locals, although there is no evidence at all of a long-lost costume.



The Welsh Eisteddfodau

No country in the world has a greater love of music and poetry than the people of Wales. Today, Eisteddfodau are held at scores of places throughout Wales, particularly from May to early November. The habit of holding similar events dates back to early history, and there are records of competitions for Welsh poets and musicians in the twelfth century. The Eisteddfod sprang from the National Assembly of Bards. It was held occasionally up to 1B19, but since then has become an annual event for the encouragement of Welsh literature and music and the preservation of the Welsh language and ancient national customs.

The Royal National Eisteddfod of Wales is held annually early in August, its actual venue varying from year to year. It attracts Welsh people from all over the world. The programme Includes male and mixed choirs, brass-band concerts, many children's events, drama, arts and crafts and, of course, the ceremony of the Crowning of the Bard.

Next in importance is the great Llangollen International Music Eisteddfod. held early in July and attended by competitors from many countries, all wearing their picturesque and often colourful national costumes. It is an event probably without parallel anywhere in the world. There are at least twenty-five other major Eisteddfodau from May to November. In addition to the Eisteddfodau, about thirty major Welsh Singing festivals are held throughout Wales during the same period of time.

Lovespoons

Lovespoons were given by suitors to their sweethearts in Wales from the seventeenth to the early nineteenth century. The custom of giving lovespoons died out in the nineteenth century but they continued to be carved especially in some country districts. Making lovespoons became something of an art form and woodwork competitions and Eisteddfoday often had examples of the genre.

In recent years, interest in lovespoons has reawakened and many people seek them out as desirable keepsakes. Visitors to Wales, particularly from overseas, wanting something uniquely Welsh to remind them of their visit often choose a lovespoon. There is also a growing tendency for Welsh people themselves to give lovespoons as gifts to commemorate special occasions — a new baby, a birthday, an impending marriage, a retirement or to celebrate a success of some kind. Lovespoons also make excellent Christmas presents. Today, when most people have neither the tine nor the inclination to carve their own lovespoons, the accepted practice is to buy a ready-made example of the craft or to commission one of the woodcarver specialists to make one.

Since pre-history, beautiful, hand-carved objects have had ceremonial, romantic and religious significance: long incense and cosmetic spoons, for example, have survived from Egyptian times. In the Middle Ages, a pair of knives in a sheath was considered a worthy gift and it was common for a bridegroom to present his bride with one: such sets were known as "wedding knives".

The history of kitchen utensils and the spoon belongs to Western culture. The history of the lovespoon belongs to Welsh romantic folklore.

From the mid-seventeenth century, lovespoons were carved from wood in Wales and there is one dated 1677 in the collection at the Welsh Folk Museum in Cardiff. It is amazing that it has survived because wooden objects are not particularly durable.

From the seventeenth century, the custom grew for a young man to give a spoon to the lady who took his fancy. Thus, particularly attractive young ladies might be given a number of spoons from aspiring suitors. It may be that modern word, "spooning" indicating a closer development of a relationship, is derived from this practice of giving a love token.

Early lovespoons were carved from sycamore which was readily available in the low-lying country districts of Wales. The main tool used was a pocket knife. Those who made such spoons were amateurs and it was a way of passing the time on long winter evenings. Imagine a young man busily shaping a spoon in a small room lit only by candlelight or the glow of a fire.

Numerous examples of lovespoons have been found throughout Wales but the giving and receiving of a spoon did not develop into "a ritual of betrothal". Indeed, there is strong evidence to suggest that giving a lovespoon expressed a desire for a relationship and was not an affirmation that a relationship had already begun.

Some young men did not have the time or the skill to carve their own spoons and professional lovespoon carters emerged. It was again, a question of demand and supply. Spoons were bartered for or purchased from these skilled craftsmen and a tradition of spoons made by the same wood worker grew in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was no wonder then, that the spoon became more decorative and elaborate.

A number of design factors should be mentioned in relation to spoon carving including size, weight, color and the nature of the completed artifact. As far as size is concerned, the earliest spoons were little bigger than the modern teaspoon, their use was limited, and larger spoons soon came to be carved. This meant that the handles, in particular, could be more and more elaborate. As they became more decorative, the spoons were displayed by hanging them on the wall in the living room or parlour. The weight and type of wood used for such a spoon depended on the setting in which it was to be displayed. Softwoods were often preferred and the colour selected so that it would look good against a wall.

A great deal of imagination was used in the creation of lovespoons. This elaboration was gradual. Two or even three bowls were carved instead of one to make it more interesting and attractive. Eventually, the bowl became less important and attention turned first to the handle and then to embellishments or additions to the handle. Sometimes the handle was enlarged or made rect­angular in shape. At other times, filigree was added. The handle was pierced, cutting designs in fretwork or carving in relief were devices to add interest and meaning to the spoon. In this way, symbols were incorporated: hearts, locks, keys, shields, anchors and wheels were favoured themes.

A heart or a series of hearts was the most popular expression of love used on spoons. These might be single or entwined to suggest that the boy and his girl would soon feel the same way about each other. As the spoons became more decorative, their utilitarian use ceased altogether and they were used more for display. The heart was also an attractive and convenient device for suspending the spoon on a wall. Indeed, most spoons have a device for hanging them up, indicating that they were decorative rather than functional.

Anchors in particular were popular: the suitor has found a berth where he wished to stay. Many lovespoons were the work of seafarers who whiled away the tedium of a voyage by whittling. Besides anchors, ropes and cable designs often appear, as do vessels, steering wheels and various other nautical emblems.

Locks (keeping love or a lover safe), keys (unlocking love), miniature cottages and houses are recurrent themes with associations of lovers making a life together. The key may have a triple significance for it may indicate unlocking the door to the heart, it may indicate maturity (reaching 21 and the key to the door theme) or it may mean "let's live in marriage together".

Chain links look very difficult to carve and are another development of the whittler's art showing the woodworker's skill. Suggestions are that the links symbolically "link" the sweethearts together in love and possibly matrimony.

It must be stressed that many assumptions have been made about the meanings of the motifs which appear on lovespoons. Imagery is always difficult to explain and certain motifs may have had more personal significance for the donor than can be appreciated by the casual observer. Spoons were not mass-produced but made by one individual for another and many relied on personal nuances other than symbols to convey meaning.

Some spoons are dated. If the couple eventually marry, they then become a keepsake of the suitor's original interest. Other spoons are personalized either by initials or by an emblem of the occupation or the interests of the donor or donor. Often a carver wishes to incorporate a date, a monogram, a motto, a name or a quotation into a carving. If he wants to keep it a secret, he may work the date or name into the design.

Nationalistic emblems such as a daffodil, a leek, the word Cymru or even a dragon are sometimes used, but they are usually to be found on modern spoons. Some spoons are intended to be in the nature of Valentines and to be anonymous. It is difficult to understand, though, that someone who had spent many hours creating such a gift would not want his work to be appreciated. Others are decorated with dual initials, those of the suitor and his lady or with a single initial when we are left to guess whether this represents the donor or the donor. But we must try not to read too much into the minds of the carvers of earlier days. Whatever we think, we cannot help being amazed by the consummate skill of these lovespoon craftsmen.



The Welsh National Game

Rugby is a form of football. It is named after Rugby School in Warwickshire where it was developed, though the exact date (1823 or later) is in dispute.

Rugby is the national game of Welsh team was thought to be the best of the world. The rules of the game are rather complicated but mainly involve the carrying of an egg-shaped ball over your opponents’ line and pressing it firmly on the ground to score a try. A team consists of fifteen players, eight of whom are usually much bigger and heavier than the rest. Their job is to win the ball so that the three-quarters can run forward over the line, trying to avoid the tackles of the opposing team. Often the heavier forwards can be seen pushing together in a scrum, trying to kick the ball backwards. Although the game seems to be similar to American football, the players are not allowed to throw the ball forward. Other point can be won by kicking the ball between the special “H” – shaped goal – posts.

When the Welsh side are playing at home at Cardiff Arms Park their supporters often try to encourage them to play better by singing the Welsh National anthem, “Land of My Fathers”. The sound of thousands of Welsh voices singing this famous song usually helps the Welsh side to score another try to win the game. Naturally they are especially pleased when this is against the English!


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