Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus! Happy St. David’s Day!
March 1st is the national day of my home country, Wales! Although this is not a Pagan holiday, it is a holiday that is very important and special to me as a Welsh person, and so I thought I’d write a little about it here!
Who Was St. David?
St. David was born in the year 500 AD in Caerfai, Pembrokeshire allegedly during a fierce storm. Both of his parents were believed to be Welsh royalty and in medieval times it was even believed that he was the nephew of King Arthur. Many stories about St. David can be found in the Buchedd Dewi (Life of David) written by Rhygyfarch in the late 11th century.
David grew up to become a priest being tutored by St. Paulinus at Hen Fynyw monastery. According to Welsh legend, David performed several miracles in his lifetime, including restoring St. Paulinus’ sight. During their battles against the Saxons, it is believed that David advised his soldiers to wear leeks in their hats so they could be distinguished from enemies – hence the leek as a national symbol of Wales. His best-known miracle was said to have taken place at Llanddewi Brefi where he made the ground he was standing on raise into a hill in front of a crowd of spectators. A white dove then settled on his shoulder – a sign of God and afterwards seen as St.David’s emblem.
David lived a very simple life eating only vegetables, breads and herbs and drinking only water, refraining from drinking beer and eating meat. He became known as Dewi Ddyfwr (David the water drinker) in Welsh. Sometimes as a form of personal penance, he would stand submerged up to his neck in a lake of cold water and recite scripture. It is also believed that the milestones in his life were marked by the appearance of springs of water.
David became a missionary and traveled throughout Wales, Britain and even to Jerusalem where he was consecrated bishop. He founded 12 monasteries including Glastonbury Abbey and one at Minervia, now known as St. Davids. He was named Archbishop of Wales at Llanddewi Brefi, Cardiganshire in 550.
Depending on the stories, St. David died in 589 or 601 AD. His remains were buried in a shrine which was later plundered by Viking invaders in the 11th century. After his death, David’s influence spread far and wide. In 1120, Pope Callactus II canonized David as a Saint and was declared Patron Saint of Wales. In the following years, many pilgrimages were made to St. Davids and these continue even to this day. His name is truly spread all over Wales; Fifty churches in South Wales alone bear his name.
St. David’s Day Traditions
900 years after St. David’s Day became an official day, Wales still celebrate the day with enthusiasm and vigor. Growing up in Wales I remember a lot of colours, crafts, singing, dancing and good food on the day – a really happy time to look forward to, especially with Winter finally receding! Here are some things that are traditionally done on St. David’s Day in Wales:
- Wearing a Daffodil or Leek: Wearing one of the emblems of Wales is a symbol of both pride to be Welsh, as well as a sign of respect for St. David himself. Around this time it’s common to see lots of synthetic daffodils and leeks which you can purchase, or you can use real ones or even make your own! Although traditionally Welsh people would wear a leek, people more commonly now wear Daffodils as it both resembles a leek flower, and is a whole lot less smelly!
- Eisteddfordau/School Concerts: Eisteddfordau (Festivals) and school concerts are very common around St. Davids Day and usually involve singing, poetry and performances in Welsh and English. I remember these vividly and yes, we had to dress up as daffodils!
- Arts and Crafts: For anyone who grew up in Wales, you probably remember the large amount of arts and crafts around St. Davids day! Sometimes we would make props for the eisteddford, make our own daffodils from paper plates, draw our own dragons (so many dog-shaped red blobs) or make our own leeks. Sometimes we would even bake our own welsh cakes or bara brith!
- Traditional Costumes: Ah the traditional ‘welsh lady’ costume. It’s extremely common to see many young girls wearing this costume on St. Davids day, as well as performers on stage. The costume itself has a very interesting history which you can read about here!
- Good Food!: St. David’s day is an excellent time to indulge in some of the wonderful Welsh food out there! It’s common to see food stalls at the eisteddfordau selling many traditional foods such as lamb, leek soup, bara brith and welsh cakes!
- Spring is Here: With the many wild flowers blooming and the lambs bouncing through the fields, St. Davids day is also seen to mark the beginning of spring in Wales. The day marks the beginning of March and the run up to Easter.
So with that, I again wish you a Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus! Diolch i chi am ddarllen! (Thanks for reading!)
I hope you enjoyed this little insight into my home country’s culture and traditions! If you’d like to learn more about -Wales, particularly the mythology, please let me know as I’d love to write about it here!