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Eisteddfod? What's that?

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Dan Williams Dan Williams | 11:36 UK time, Friday, 21 May 2010

The Eisteddfod is a festival of music, performance, arts and literature. Traditionally this was a time to bring together great poets and musicians from around Wales. And that is still true today, even if it has evolved to have a large pink tent being the focal point of the Eisteddfod where all the events take place.

There seems to be a lack of understanding around the UK, and even here in Wales, of the Eisteddfod festivals held every year, and the differences between them.

Why is an Eisteddfod so important to the people of Wales? Isn't it a load of druids and wizards wearing silly clothes?

To "non-Welsh" people the idea of the Eisteddfod can seem strange. An annual national festival where people come to sing, individually and in choirs, dance, recite poetry, congregate around a stone circle wearing robes to celebrate the fact of being 'Welsh'! Or that's the perception I think people have of it.

But it is much more than that. Without sounding a little cliché, it's a Welsh institution. The first Eisteddfod took place in 1146 and carried much of the same traditions seen today across all of the Eisteddfod festivals celebrated.

To understand an Eisteddfod festival you really have to go to one. To understand why people go traipsing around a muddy field (as is often the case) for hours on end you have to get caught up in the glory that is an Eisteddfod. It a great chance for old friends to catch up, as through the week many people form all around Wales come to compete in different events.

How do you pronounce it?

Eisteddfod is pronounced 'eye-steth-vod', with 'dd' sounding similar to the 'th' in 'the'.

The plural of 'eisteddfod' is 'eisteddfodau', pronounced as before but with another 'eye' on the end: 'eye-steth-vod-eye'.

What's different between these Eisteddfod festivals? What's the same?

Probably the most important thing that a National and Urdd Eisteddfod are trying to do, and even the Llangollen Eisteddfod even though it's an International festival, is to promote the Welsh language. With increasing numbers of Welsh speakers in Wales, what could be better than week-long festivals celebrating and promoting the Welsh language?

Here's a brief guide to some of the major events. More information can, of course, be found on their websites.

National Eisteddfod

The National Eisteddfod festival is a week-long festival held annually normally in the first week of August. Competitions are held entirely in the Welsh language with a range of performance, music and literature competitions.

Ebbw Vale is not known for being a particularly Welsh language area. That's why this year is a great opportunity for the Eisteddfod to encourage the language as the National Eisteddfod lands in Blaenau Gwent.

For a more in-depth guide see our National Eisteddfod guide site.

Urdd Eisteddfod

During the week long Urdd Eisteddfod, like the National Eisteddfod, the Urdd also has set pieces in the Welsh language and there are regional heats in order to determine who gets to the stage at the festival. Children and young people aged 7-24 have to be members of the Urdd Gobaith Cymru organisation in order to compete.

Their annual five-day Eisteddfod is the largest youth arts festival in Europe boasting around 15,000 competitors each year.

Llangollen International Music Eisteddfod

The Llangollen International Music Eisteddfod is a world renowned multicultural festival that has people from all around the world flocking to compete. Unlike both the Urdd and the National Eisteddfod, the Llangollen festival is a chance for international acts over 6 days of competing to enter and give a small town in Wales a taste of different cultures form all corners of the world.

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