by Theo Davies-Lewis
Wednesday, 23
December 2020
Idea
07:00

This Christmas, bittersweet ‘hiraeth’ spreads far beyond Wales

This Welsh word captures the all-encompassing longing for home
by Theo Davies-Lewis
Conwy Castle, North Wales. Credit: Getty

Amid the chaos of travel bans, border blockades and new variants of coronavirus this Christmas, spare a thought for the Welsh separated from their homeland. Admittedly, we are a hopeless bunch of romantics at the best of times, barely functional outside the rugged mountains and sweeping countryside of Wales. But in the middle of a pandemic, with a global diaspora of up to three million, I am sure that most are listening to Tom Jones while they try and make the most of the last Welsh cake crumbling in their hands.

The Celts have always suffered from a permanent state of acute homesickness when away from family, friends and the land we will always call ‘home’. Right now the feeling across the country is much stronger; and it is by no means consigned to the dreamers away from Wales.

Though I will not be with my family in Wales this Christmas, we are all united in that certain feeling right now. It is not something that can be restricted to the definitional boundaries of homesickness, or dare I say it, the upset one feels for being away from loved ones. It is an all-encompassing emotion when thinking of ‘home’ — wherever that may be — that makes you weak at the knees. This is hiraeth. Our magical word from the ancient vocabulary of Cymraeg, which has no exact translation.

For many, it is something that captures the immense homesickness or even deep nostalgia they have for the Land of My Fathers, that earnest longing for home just a thought away. Some see it differently — which is the beauty of the word — preferring to use hiraeth to express a notion of regret. For many it captures their own unbreakable bond with a place in the world. For most, including me, it is all of the above. Hiraeth is magical because it bottles our emotions — from romanticism to despair — into one word from our vast vocabulary.

Many will be missing the scene on Christmas Day, with the whole family together for the most important time of the year. Others will be longing for that first embrace with their parents or grandparents, or the safety of the local dialect they have missed hearing. Some may regret leaving home in the first instance. I long like my fellow patriots to see the dynamic Welsh coast and hear the Welsh language. That is the feeling you are once more ‘home’.

So, perhaps for the first time, millions across the UK are experiencing the symptoms of hiraeth as one. Not everyone feels it the exact same way, but that’s the magic of it. We may be separated by family and friends, or be away from home, but we all feel hiraeth. For years it has galvanised the Welsh in times of hardship; this Christmas, the whole of Britain is feeling it too.

Join the discussion


  • Hiraeth is, indeed, a wonderful word and concept, but I’ll take issue with the overstated (‘always’ and ‘permanent’) assertion that
    ‘The Celts have always suffered from a permanent state of acute
    homesickness when away from family, friends and the land we will always
    call ‘home’.’ This might be true of some people (of whatever ethnicity/nationality), but surely you see that there are differences within any demographic group, and stereotyping is rarely useful!

  • There is an accurate translation of hiraeth, but not into English. Hiraeth is well-known to the Portuguese as “saudade”.

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