St. David’s Day: Its History and Traditions

Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant Hapus!  Happy Saint David’s Day!  Today, all around the world, the Welsh are proudly celebrating the feast day of St. David, the patron saint of Wales. 

This holiday is the highlight of spring in Wales, a day to focus on our heritage and revel in our culture. So, who exactly is St. David?

St. David is said to have founded a monastery around 550, close to where St. David’s Cathedral and Bishops Palace is located today. He is best known for his miracles, e.g., restoring sight to the blind, bringing the dead back to life, and making the earth rise during one of his sermons.

He is the only Welsh saint to be canonized by the Western Catholic Church, and in the 18th century, March 1 (the day of his death) was declared a national day of celebration in Wales.

In honor of today, the flags of Wales, St. David, and Owain Glyndŵr will be flying high, and there will no doubt be lots of singing from this land of song. Many will be wearing one of the national emblems, a daffodil or leek.

Some historians suggest that there are two emblems because the Welsh word for daffodil and leek are so similar (Cenhinen Pedr and Cenhinen), however you could argue that both were chosen for specific reasons. The daffodil is the national flower of Wales and is said to be St. David’s personal symbol.  The leek was used to distinguish the Welsh from the English in battle, and is now used in many tasty Welsh recipes.

You’ll most certainly have your choice of events to attend and enjoy today. Children will undoubtedly don the traditional Welsh costume, similar to the one my Mom dressed me in each year, complete with shawl, black hat and apron.  There will be energizing parades in Aberystwyth, Caernarfon, and Llandudno, with the largest occurring in the capital, Cardiff.

In many villages, choral concerts and festivals will mark the beginning of a weekend of celebrations.  In addition to the traditional festivities, Cadw is granting free entry into certain Welsh heritage sites today, including my favorite, Carreg Cennen Castle.

If you are a little more adventurous you can take an icy dip in Llyn Padarn Lake in North Wales.  In contrast, if you celebrate with food, like me, you’ll want to head to Bala, where the locals are attempting to set a world record by baking the largest Welsh cake.  I wish I could be a judge at that event!

If you can’t make it to Wales this weekend there are plenty of folks celebrating from afar. California will celebrate via a National Day of Wales Festival in Los Angeles, where Anglesey’s Meinir Gwilym will headline a concert.

In New York, there will be a banquet which Dylan Thomas’s granddaughter, Hannah Ellis, will attend.  Mickey and Minnie Mouse will be celebrating at Disneyland Paris, and the folks down under in Sydney, Australia can attend a celebratory Welsh choir concert.

You can bet I will do my share of celebrating from Seattle.  After attending a local event, I will be toasting to Wales with a cup of Murrough’s Welsh brew tea and a stack of Welsh cakes!

Naomi is a Welsh-American living in Seattle, who travels to her homeland yearly and longs to live in Wales again.  By day she can be found slogging away at her job in corporate America but by night you’ll find her moonlighting as pastry chef Maggie of Maggie’s Desserts.