Saint David (or Dewi Sant in Welsh) is the patron saint of Wales, and he is celebrated on 1 March each year. Tradition holds that he died on this day in 589 C.E. The day was declared a national day of celebration in Wales in the 18th century, and was voted a national holiday in 2000.
According to legend, St. David was born in the late 5th century. The earliest writings on his life were written some five hundred years after he died, so it is difficult to tell what is fact and what is legend, but we will try to give you a brief introduction to the Saint.
He was said to have been from a royal line. His father, Sant, was the son of Ceredig, who was the prince of Ceredigion, a region in South-West Wales. His mother, Non, was the daughter of a local chieftain, and legend has it that she was also the niece of King Arthur.
He was born near Chapel Non on the South-West Wales coast, near the modern city of St David. He was educated in a monastery, before going out to be a pilgrim, travelling all over Wales (where he established many churches), England, Ireland and even to Jerusalem to meet the Patriarch.
He also founded a monastery at Glyn Rhosyn (Rose Vale) on the banks of the river Alun, where the cathedral city of St. David is today. The monastic brotherhood was very strict, including early morning prayers, and a full day of hard physical labour to feed themselves and any pilgrims and travellers.
The best known story about the life of St. David is supposed to have taken place at the Synod of Llanddewi Brefi. The Synod was to decide whether or not to make David an Archbishop and a large crowd had gathered. When David stood to speak one of the congregation shouted ‘We won’t be able to see or hear him’. The ground rose in response, and all the congregation was able to see and hear him after that. It was soon decided that he would be made an Archbishop.
It is claimed that he lived for over 100 years, and the words that he gave at his last sermon have become famous in their own right: ‘Be Joyful, and keep your faith and creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us.’ Saint David was buried in the grounds of his monastery, where his shrine was a popular place of pilgrimage throughout the Middle ages.
St. David’s day is celebrated around the world, and especially in Wales. There are many St. David’s Societies for whom the highlight of the social calendar is the St. David’s day celebrations. According to legend, St. David advised the Britons on the eve of a battle with the Saxons to place leeks in their caps to help identify friend from foe, and helped to secure a great victory. A leek is often worn on St. David’s day, and in the Welsh regiments soldiers will eat a raw leek.
The Welsh for leek is Cenhinen, and over the years has been confused with the Welsh Cenhinen Pedr for a daffodil. As a result, the daffodil was picked up as a symbol of Wales, and has now been adopted as a second emblem. Many people will wear daffodils on their lapels as a result.
The main celebrations of the day are normally dinners, parties, and eisteddfodau (recitals and concerts). Large parades are held around Wales, with the largest of them being held in the Welsh capital of Cardiff. These parades are non-military celebrations of Welsh heritage and culture.
Other large celebrations are held around the world, and particularly in the USA. The largest annual festival in the USA is the Los Angeles St. David’s Day Festival, which is an arts and cultural festival held in Los Angeles. It takes place on the first weekend of March, and has been running since 2011.