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St David – Dewi Sant – is the Patron Saint of Wales. The most important and most celebrated event in the Welsh calendar is St David’s Day, but what is this all about?
St David’s day takes place on the 1st of March each year. As well as remembering the saint himself, it has become an important day for celebrating everything to do with Wales including food, culture, and the welsh language. Although it’s not a public holiday, you’ll find parades, eisteddfodau, and celebrations across Wales on St David’s Day.
The rest of this article will give you an introduction to the life and legacy of St David, and the customs and celebrations that accompany the day that remembers him.
What Happens on St David’s Day?
St David’s Day offers the opportunity for anyone to experience Welsh culture and heritage – from traditional outfits, to tasty food and drink.
Here are some different ways that you can get involved in the celebrations:
1. Wear a Traditional Outfit
Where better place to start than to pop on a traditional Welsh outfit? Many children in Wales still wear traditional outfits each year to commemorate St David’s Day, along with some keen adults too.
For women, the typical dress includes a red woolen cloak, skirt, and a tall black hat (similar to the image above). It is based on clothing worn by rural Welsh women in the early nineteenth century1 (source: National Museum of Wales).
For men, a traditional outfit would usually include a check pattern waistcoat, a tie or bowtie, and a cap to finish the look off.
Don’t let the traditional outfits limit you though. There are plenty of other options, from Welsh tartan kilts (or ‘cilts’), to a more subtle daffodil or leek pin badge.
2. Join a Parade
There are often parades arranged throughout Wales to commemorate St David’s Day. Check out what is happening in your local area, or arrange your own!
One of the biggest parades takes place in Cardiff each March 1st. It is a welcoming event which celebrates Welsh heritage and culture. The parade takes place near Cardiff Castle, ending at St David’s Hall where the national anthem, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, is sung.
3. Take Part in an Eisteddfod
The National Eisteddfod of Wales is an inclusive and welcoming festival which celebrates culture and language in Wales. The event showcases music, dance, arts and literature, and encourages performers of all capabilities to take part.
Many schools hold their own Eisteddfod concert around the time of St David’s Day, to showcase Welsh culture and talent within the school.
The national event is held during the first week of August each year, so whilst it isn’t on St David’s Day, it is a wonderful way to celebrate Welsh culture during the summer months.
4. Visit a National Treasure
Wales is packed with natural treasures, and man-made beauties.
Why not use St David’s Day as a reason to explore and visit one of the many beautiful areas of Wales? You could visit a waterfall or a national park, or take the chance to call in to a castle – from UNESCO World Heritage sites like Caernarfon and Harlech, to smaller castles you will find throughout Wales.
5. Eat Traditional Welsh Food and Drink
Wales is a very welcoming country, and of course you can eat and drink whatever you like to celebrate St David. However, if you would like to partake in some traditional Welsh food and drink, here are some top tips:
- Welsh Cakes – a must have for St David’s Day (and any day of the week ending in ‘y’ in my household). You can knock up a Welsh Cake very quickly at home (see image above), and it’s great to make with kids. It takes around 15 minutes in all, still using a traditional recipe passed down through generations.
- Bara Brith – a traditional fruit cake with a unique flavour. It is comforting homely food, which tastes great as part of afternoon tea, or just as a little snack.
- Cawl – a slow-cooked broth usually made with lamb or beef, and lots of veg. Similar to an Irish stew, cawl is the sort of dish that warms your soul on a cold evening.
- Seafood – with almost three quarters of Wales surrounded by water, you should definitely use this day as an excuse to try out some locally-caught seafood. From mussels in Conwy, to fresh Pembrokeshire lobster, there is something for all tastes and budgets.
- A Little Alcoholic Tipple – although St David was teetotal, Wales is blessed with many independent breweries and distilleries; it even has over 20 vineyards producing award winning wine4 (source: Visit Wales). Penderyn is probably Wales’ best known spirit export, with the company producing award-winning single malt whiskies and spirits, at the foothills of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
6. Wear a Daffodil or Leek
Whilst all of the earlier activities are nice, many people just opt for a more basic way to support St David’s Day by wearing a daffodil or leek on their chest, two of Wales’ national emblems.
The leek is actually a much older emblem of Wales with stories linking the root vegetable with Saint David himself (find out more about this here), however, these days the daffodil has become a more popular national symbol, likely liked to their bloom around 1st March each year.
When is St David’s Day?
Here are the days that the 1st March falls on over the next five years to pop in your diary:
|Year||St David’s Day|
|2023||Wednesday 1st March|
|2024||Friday 1st March|
|2025||Saturday 1st March|
|2026||Sunday 1st March|
|2027||Monday 1st March|
What is the Story of St David?
St David was a leading figure in the early Welsh church. He was a monk who founded a monastic community in West Wales, drawing followers from across the country.
The earliest known writings of St David were from around 1080, written by a monk called Rhygyfarch, hundreds of years after David had died. The work was based on stories that had been passed down through generations. It told us about the miracles that David performed, and that David’s father was a Prince of Ceredigion, and his mother a nun6 (source: St Davids Cathedral).
Perhaps the most famous miracle that David performed, is when he raised the ground under him to form a hill, so that the large congregation that surrounded could see him. It was also said that he raised a youth from the dead, and healed many people, including restoring the sight of his teacher, Paulinus7 (source: BBC).
St David was a teetotal vegetarian. It is said that he and his monks lived a very simple life, living off leeks and water, even ploughing their fields by hand, rather than forcing oxen to do it8 (source: BBC).
He was also unique in so much as he is the only British or Irish Patron Saint to have been born in the country that he represents, with St George born in Turkey, St Patrick born in Britain (not Ireland), and St Andrew born in Palestine.
St David’s legacy lives on beyond St David’s Day. His name was given to the smallest city in the United Kingdom – St David’s in Pembrokeshire, the place where he is thought to have lived, and home to St David’s Cathedral which includes a shrine to the man himself.
Why is David the Patron Saint of Wales?
In 1120, Pope Callixtus II canonised David as a Saint, he was then declared Patron Saint of Wales.
Following this, pilgrimage to St David’s in Pembrokeshire was encouraged as a historical Christian site. In 1123, Pope Callixtus II declared that two pilgrimages to St David’s Cathedral was equal to one journey to Rome9 (source: St David’s Cathedral).
This act of pilgrimage is still very important to Christians, with the Cathedral and surrounding areas, welcoming many visitors each year.
History of St David’s Day
Following his canonisation in 1120, St David’s Day has been commemorated every year.
As well as celebrations in Wales, there are events worldwide to mark the occasion, including the Los Angeles St David’s Day Festival – the largest of its kind in the United States – celebrating Welsh culture, music, food and drink, which ran until 201710 (source: Wikipedia).
St David’s Day Activity Ideas for Kids
St David’s Day is a great excuse to embrace your creative side and involve the family – here are some ideas:
- Bake Welsh Cakes
- Cook a traditional cawl
- Create paper daffodils or leeks
- Colour in pictures of Welsh landmarks
- Visit a Welsh museum (they are free to visit!)
- Create your own Cymru quiz
- Find a local nature trail and embrace the natural wonders
As St David said – ‘do the little things’. You don’t have to spend a fortune or travel a long distance to celebrate St David’s Day.
How Do You Say ‘Happy Saint David’s Day’ in Welsh?
‘Happy St David’s Day’ in Welsh is ‘Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus’. The phonetic pronunciation of this is ‘Deethe Goyl Dewi Hap-is’.
Use this celebration as a reason to greet someone in Welsh. Some other useful Welsh words (with phonetic pronunciations) include:
- ‘Bore da’ (bo-reh da) – Good Morning
- ‘Diolch’ (dee-olckh) – Thank you
- ‘Sut wyt ti?’ (sit-oyt tee) – How are you?
Is St David’s Day a Public Holiday in Wales?
No, St David’s Day is not recognised as a public holiday in the United Kingdom, but that doesn’t prevent anyone from celebrating the life and legacy of St David. There is widespread support in Wales for the day to become a public holiday, and in recent years, several Welsh councils have given their staff the day off to commemorate this day.
Kieren is the founder and editor-in-chief of Wales Guidebook. Originally from rural Mid-Wales, he has lived all over the country from Cardiff to Wrexham. A true Welshman, Kieren created this site to share his passion for Wales and help others discover this beautiful country.