There’s nothing more Welsh than St. David’s Day, the feast and celebration that falls on March 1 and commemorates the patron saint of Wales, Saint David — the greatest figure in the 6th century, Welsh Age of Saints, founder of scores of religious communities, and the only native-born patron saint of the countries of Britain and Ireland. St. David, a famous teacher and the founder of what is today St. David’s Cathedral, was famed for his pious austerity, his commitment to eschew sensual pleasures in favor of spiritual enlightenment, and his ability to perform miracles. Because of his life and works, St David’s Day is widely popular amongst the Welsh. Today, the holiday is as much a celebration of Wales as it is of her patron saint. Children participate in recitation and singing, parades line the streets, the flag of Saint David is raised, and some girls wear traditional Welsh clothing.
History of St. David's Day
St David’s Day has been celebrated since the year 1120 and is a huge celebration for the Welsh. Who is St David? St David was the greatest figure in the 6th century Welsh Age of Saints, founder of scores of religious communities, and the only native-born patron saint of the countries of Britain and Ireland.
Most of what we know about St David was written by the 11th-century scholar Rhygyfarch. He tells us that St David was born in Pembrokeshire around the year 500, the grandson of Ceredig ap Cunedda, king of Ceredigion. He became a renowned preacher, founding monastic settlements and churches in Wales, Brittany, and England – including, possibly, the abbey at Glastonbury. In 550 A.D., fellow monks elected him primate of the region of Brefi, after he gave a compelling speech at the Synod of Brefi. In 569 A.D., David presided over the Synod of Caerleon.
He’s said to have made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem where he became an archbishop and established a strict religious community in what is now St Davids in Pembrokeshire, West Wales. He was famed for his pious austerity, as he is believed to have lived on only leeks and water. His monks only prayed, ate, and wrote in the evenings, and plowed fields themselves without the help of animals. He eschewed personal possessions — the monks could not even say ‘my’ when referring to something as simple as a book.
Many people claimed that St David was able to perform miracles. One of the more famous miracles associated with him is that once while preaching at Llandewi Brefi, he caused the ground to rise beneath his feet so that everyone could hear his sermon. During the incident, a white dove is said to have landed on his shoulder, as he is so often depicted now. Other miracles are believed to be St David resurrecting a dead child and restoring sight to a blind man.
St David died on 1 March – St David’s Day – in 589. He was buried at St. David’s Cathedral. After the Vikings raided his tomb in the 10th and 11th centuries, it was given a new shrine in 1275. The bones of the person who was supposedly St. David were discovered in the Holy Trinity Chapel of Saint David’s Cathedral and carbon-dated back to the 12th century. He was canonized by Pope Callixtus in the 12th century, and St David’s Day has been celebrated ever since. His shrine at St. David’s became a notable place of pilgrimage, especially during the Middle Ages.
There have been over 50 churches dedicated to him in pre-Reformation days. He was also canonized by the Eastern Orthodox church. St. David’s day has long been a celebration of the saint of Wales and, in 2000, the National Assembly for Wales voted cross-party to recognize St. David’s Day as a public holiday. Traditional festivities include wearing daffodils and leeks, recognized symbols of Wales and Saint David respectively, eating traditional Welsh food including cawl and Welsh rarebit, and women wearing traditional Welsh dress. An increasing number of cities and towns across Wales including Cardiff, Swansea, and Aberystwyth also put on parades throughout the day.
St. David's Day timeline
St David, Dewi Sant in Welsh, is born on the south-west coast of Wales, near to where the city of St Davids is today.
St David is said to have founded a monastery close to the place where he was born.
David presides over the Synod of Caerleon, also called the Synod of Victory.
After living for, apparently, more than 100 years, St David passes away on Tuesday, March 1, 589 after giving his final sermon the day before.
St David is canonized by Pope Callixtus II, becoming the national patron saint of Wales, and March 1 is officially included in the church calendar as St David’s Day.
With cross-party support in the National Assembly for Wales, St. David’s Day officially becomes a public holiday.
St. David's Day FAQs
Why do we celebrate St David’s Day?
St David is the patron saint of Wales and he is celebrated on the 1 March. To mark the day, Welsh people around the world wear one or both of Wales’s national emblems – a daffodil and a leek. Patron saints are chosen to be special protectors or guardians over all areas of life.
What is St David known for?
St David became a renowned preacher, founding monastic settlements and churches in Wales, Brittany and southwest England – including, possibly, the abbey at Glastonbury.
Why do people wear leeks or daffodils?
Many people mark St David’s Day on 1 March by wearing a leek because of David’s diet or a daffodil, the national emblems of Wales. The flag of St David is also worn which simply features a yellow cross on a black background.
How to Celebrate St David’s Day
Several Wales’s heritage sites are open for free on St David’s Day, as part of St David’s Day celebrations – including St Davids Bishop’s Palace. This includes Caerphilly Castle, with its iconic leaning tower and St Davids Bishop’s Palace — located near St Davids Cathedral, where Wales’s patron Saint, Dewi Sant, founded his monastery. There is also a national parade each year. From military parades to concerts and food festivals, there is no shortage of celebration of St. David’s Day in Wales — particularly in Cardiff. If that’s out of range, try to find a celebration near you! Even Washington D.C. and Los Angeles hold events for the Welsh holiday to honor Welsh culture.
Wear a costume
People typically celebrate St David's Day by wearing a daffodil, the national symbol of Wales, or a leek, St David's symbol. In Wales, people, particularly children, wear traditional Welsh costumes. Girls wear a petticoat and overcoat, made of Welsh flannel, and a tall hat, worn over a frilled bonnet.
Eat Welsh food
Go on a search for Welsh cakes and Bara Brith. If you can’t find a Welsh restaurant, it doesn’t matter. Cook up some ‘cawl,’ Welsh rarebit, ‘laverbread,’ or ‘Glamorgan sausage’ to celebrate traditional Welsh cuisine!
5 Facts About St David That Will Blow Your Mind
David founded a monastery
David founded a monastery around the year 560, close to the place where he was born.
He was a vegetarian
It is believed that St David himself only ate leeks and drank water.
Shakespeare mentions him
In Henry V, when Pistol, insults the humble leek on St David’s Day, Fluellen insists he eats the national emblem as punishment: “If you can mock a leek, you can eat a leek”.
He was a miracle worker
He was said to have been able to restore a blind man’s sight and bring a child back to life by splashing the boy’s face with tears.
A king took his remains
After his 1284 military campaign in Wales, the English King Edward I took the head and arm of St David from the cathedral and displayed the remains in London.
Why We Love St. David’s Day
His teachings were meaningful
His last words to his followers before his death are thought to have been: "Be joyful, keep the faith and do the little things that you have heard and seen me do." The phrase gwenwch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd which means 'Do the little things in life' is still a well-known phrase in Wales.
He practiced discipline
One of the many lessons that can be learned from David’s life is discipline. St David and his monks plowed fields by hand and didn't eat meat. It is also believed that St David himself only ate leeks and drank water. Even if we don’t go to those measures, St David’s great discipline and restraint is certainly something to be admired and implemented in our lives in little ways.
You can learn about Welsh culture
Holidays are a great way to learn about other cultures. St David’s Day is a day to explore Welsh food, music, and traditions. Welsh culture and history are not well-known, so today is a great day to learn about what it means to be Welsh! St. David’s Day allows Welsh people to put their homeland pride on display.
St. David's Day dates