March 1 is St. David’s Day in Wales. As St. David (Dewi Sant in Welsh) is the patron saint of Wales, this is an important day on the calendar and is marked by parades, concerts and the wearing of one or both of Wales’s national emblems – a daffodil and a leek.
Who is St. David?
David was born in the 6th century in or around South Cardigan and North Pembrokeshire in what is now southwest Wales. Born into local royalty, his mother was Saint Non, daughter of a Celtic chieftain, and his father (or possibly grandfather) was Prince Ceredig ap Cunedda. Haven chosen life as a missionary monk, David traveled to France, Ireland, and the Middle East to learn and to proselytize.
Once when David was preaching at large gathering, people complained they couldn’t hear or see him. He threw a handkerchief on the ground, and the ground rose up, allowing everyone in the audience a better view (and supposedly creating the hill at Llanddewi Brefi).
David performed other miracles and was canonized in the 12th century. He died on 1 March, and was buried in the monastery he led, at what is now St. David’s Cathedral in the town of St. David’s, near the southwestern tip of Pembrokeshire.
Other legends about St. David
In medieval times, many people thought that David was a descendant of King Arthur, commonly thought to have come from Wales (or perhaps Cornwall). Heady stuff, especially since one of the legends of the Mabinogi includes a red dragon (Wales) ultimately defeating a white dragon (England) in the far future – welcome news in the past when Welsh were subjugated by English overlords.
Another legend has David encouraging Welsh soldiers to wear leeks on their helmets to help the soldiers distinguish friend from foe in a battle with Saxons (those early English again!). The story says that although the soldiers found it odd, they complied, and won the battle! Other stories include David curing blindness, resurrecting people with his tears, and being visited by doves, a symbol of godliness.
Ways to Celebrate St. David’s Day
Wear your heritage proudly! Wear a leek (yep, you can get synthetic ones that are a little less whiffy) or a daffodil. Daffodils were proposed in the 19th century as a replacement of sorts for the humble leek. The Welsh Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, liked daffodils, and they bloom at the right time of year and signify the beginning of spring and rebirth for many. Interestingly, they are also grown commercially in mid-Wales to produce galantamine for Alzheimer’s drugs.
Celebrate with food! Have roast lamb, cawl (a lamb stew) with bread, Welsh Cakes and possibly bara brith (Welsh fruit bread). If you’re vegetarian, enjoy Welsh rarebit, then a Welsh Cake (also known as cacennau cri in the north, or picau ar y maen in the south).
Celebrate with a brew, either a real ale (cwrw go iawn) or any other type of Welsh beer! Many Welsh breweries make a special St. David’s Day brew, though interestingly, St. David was an ascetic, so drank only water.
Display your Welsh flag (or your flag of St. David) or sing the unofficial national anthem, Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau! If you aren’t familiar with it, listen to it here.
And remember to take St. David’s words to heart: Pethau Bychain (little things) or more formally, “Do ye the little things in life” (“Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd”).
More Welsh phrases to use today (and every day) to celebrate the culture of Wales
- Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant Hapus (Happy St. David’s Day)!
- Cymru Am Byth (Wales forever)
- Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi (Old land of my fathers is dear to me)
- Bore da, dach chi’n iawn? (Good morning, are you okay?)
- Os gwelwch yn dda (please, literally, “if you see it well”)
- Maen ddrwg gen i (sorry/apologies, literally, “I have with me badness”)
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