St David’s Day 2022: Welsh traditions, medieval miracles and how leeks became iconic symbols

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When is St David’s Day, who was the patron saint and how is it celebrated every year?

St David’s Day 2022: Welsh traditions, medieval miracles and how leeks became iconic symbols
happy St David Day 2022 today wales welsh traditions events history when date who recipes march costume
People often celebrate St David’s Day by wearing a daffodil, the national flower of Wales CREDIT: Ben Birchall/PA

St David’s Day is finally here, with celebrations in honour of the patron saint of Wales taking place today, on March 1.

Recognised annually since the 12th century, the Welsh occasion is the first day of the year when Britons celebrate one of our patron saints and marks the date of St David’s supposed death in 589 AD.

But why are leeks, doves and daffodils tied to the event and how is the day celebrated by the Welsh nation? Here is everything you need to know about St David’s Day.

When is St David’s Day?

St David’s Day falls each year on March 1. Want to say ‘Happy St David’s Day’ in Welsh? It’s Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus – pronounced Deethe goo-eel Dew-ee happ-iss. Easy!

Who was St David?

St David is the patron saint of Wales – as well as the patron saint of doves. Also known as Dewi Sant in Welsh, he was born in Caerfai in Pembrokeshire to Sant, a prince of Cardigan, and St Non, the daughter of a chieftain in around 500 AD. He was recognised as a national patron saint at the height of Welsh resistance to the Normans.

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St David studied under St Paulinus in Cardigan, before he went on pilgrimages, travelling to Wales, Cornwall, Britanny, Ireland and Jerusalem, where he was made an archbishop.

He helped to spread the word of Christianity and founded around 12 monasteries in his lifetime. He also helped to suppress Pelagian heresy, where people believed that original sin did not taint human nature and people were capable of choosing good or evil without divine aid.

Monasteries founded by him were known for their extreme asceticism, where monks abstained from worldly pleasures, living on a diet of bread, vegetables, water and milk. They also did all of the hard labour themselves, including farming without the aid of an ox to plough the fields.

St David Day 2022 wales welsh traditions events history when date who recipes
St David is the patron saint of Wales – as well as the patron saint of doves

While little is known about St David’s life, he is known for performing miracles. His most famous miracle was when he was preaching to a large crowd at the Synod of Brefi and raised the ground beneath him into a hill so his sermon could be heard by all.

He also miraculously lived after eating bread poisoned by monks at his monastery, who tired of their life of austerity, as well as restoring the sight of his tutor, St Paulinus.

In medieval times, St David was thought to be the nephew of King Arthur. In some stories, it is his mother who was the niece of King Arthur. Legend also says that St Patrick foresaw David’s birth.

During St David’s last sermon his words to his followers were: “Be joyful, and keep your faith and your 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.”

“Do the little things” has become a well-known inspirational saying in Wales.

St David is thought to have died on March 1, 589 AD, and his remains were buried in St David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire, which was a popular place of pilgrimage after he was canonised in 1120 AD.

His shrine was removed by Vikings in the 10th and 11th centuries, and a new shrine constructed in its place in the 13th Century.

Making two pilgrimages to his shrine at St David’s Cathedral is thought to be equivalent to a pilgrimage to the Vatican, while three are equivalent to a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

St David has been patron saint of Wales since the 12th century – he was canonised by Pope Callixtus in 1120. Of the patron saints of the British Isles, only St David and St Patrick had visited the country they are the patron saint for.

St Patrick was a Romano-British missionary, St George was a Roman soldier of Greek extraction and St Andrew was from Palestine.

What are the symbols and images associated with St David?

The flag of St David is a yellow cross on a black background. On St David’s Day, the flag of St David and Y Ddraig Goch (the Red Dragon, Wales’ national flag), will be flown more than usual.

Images of St David often depict him on a hill with a white dove on his shoulder. The dove represents the Holy Spirit which gifted St David with eloquent speech when he preached. Some stories say the dove is depicted because one landed on his shoulder on the day he miraculously raised a hill to preach.

People often wear leeks in remembrance of St David’s guidance during the battle against the Saxons when, supposedly, St David advised Welsh warriors to wear a leek during a battle with the Saxons, so enemies and allies could be distinguished. They won the battle and leeks became a Welsh symbol.

St David Day 2022 wales welsh traditions events history when date who recipes
People often wear leeks in remembrance of St David’s guidance during the battle against the Saxons

Is St David’s Day a public holiday?

Unfortunately, no. While St Andrew’s Day in Scotland and St Patrick’s Day in Ireland are public holidays, St George’s Day in England and St David’s Day in Wales are not.

In 2007, Tony Blair rejected calls for St David’s Day to become a bank holiday, despite a poll revealing that 87 per cent of Welsh people wanted a March 1 holiday.

School children used to be given a half-day holiday, and in some parts of Wales, this tradition continues.

How is St David’s Day celebrated?

The 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys noted that Welsh celebrations in London for St David’s Day would spark wider counter-celebrations among their English neighbours, with life-sized effigies of Welshmen being symbolically lynched.

By the 18th century the custom had arisen of confectioners producing “Taffies” – gingerbread figures baked in the shape of a Welshman riding a goat. 

Today, people often celebrate St David’s Day by wearing a daffodil, the national flower of Wales, or a leek, St David’s personal symbol.

In Wales, people often wear traditional Welsh costumes. Girls wear a petticoat and overcoat, made of Welsh flannel, and a tall hat, worn over a frilled bonnet.

Boys wear a white shirt, a Welsh flannel waistcoat, black trousers, long wool socks and black shoes. The outfits originated during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Children in Wales often enjoy traditional Welsh dances, sing Welsh folk songs and recite Welsh poems, and take part in school concerts, or eisteddfodau.

Welsh regiments in the British army traditionally eat raw leeks on March 1 to celebrate their patron saint. In 2017, the Queen gave leeks to the soldiers of The Royal Welsh to mark St David’s Day at Lucknow Barracks, as well as to one of the Regimental Goats of the Royal Welsh.

St David Day 2022 wales welsh traditions events history when date who recipes
One of the Regimental goats, waiting to be presented with a leek by the Queen in March 2017 CREDIT: Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

A long line of goats have been recruited by the regiment since 1844, when Queen Victoria presented the Royal Welsh Fusiliers with its first official Royal goat.

The Regular and Reserve battalions have always recruited a goat from the Royal herd at the Great Orme, Llandudno, and the goats have a host of official duties, including leading the 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh on all ceremonial duties and leading parades.

St David’s Day events 2022 

The St David’s Day Parade will run in Cardiff this year on March 1 from 12.30pm. The non-military parade is an opportunity for anyone in Wales to join a celebration of Welsh heritage and culture.

The St David’s Day Run is also set to take place virtually in 2022. Participants can choose to compete in either the 2km, 5km or 10km before submitting their running results online between February 27 and March 14 – but ideally by St David’s Day – as well as sharing videos and photos of their efforts on social media.

There will also be an evening chamber concert held on March 4 as members of the Royal College of Music, London, come together to celebrate St David’s Day.

Best Welsh cakes recipe 

Welsh cakes are delicious teatime treat, either spread with butter, or served with a couple of leeks and a little cheese. Welsh cakes can be eaten any day of the year, but also form part of the St David’s Day celebrations.

Diana Henry reveals how you can make the perfect Welsh cakes.

St David Day 2022 wales welsh traditions events history when date who best traditional cakes recipes
Traditional Welsh Cakes CREDIT: Andrew Crowley

What else to cook on St David’s Day

Welsh rarebit

This Welsh classic is perfect for those who love cheese. Though traditionally served after the main course, the comforting dish can be enjoyed at any time of the day.

Glamorgan sausages

Traditional Welsh sausage made with leeks and cheese, and coated in golden breadcrumbs.

Fish pie with leeks and celeriac cheddar mash

Celeriac works brilliantly as a mash, and when combined with buttery leeks and fish, they make a fantastically tasty trio.

What are the lyrics to Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, the Welsh national anthem?

Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, translated as ‘Land of my Fathers’, was written in 1856 by Evan James and his son, James James, from Pontypridd.

Welsh rugby and football crowds are regularly heard singing their national anthem before international matches.

The first recorded occasion of the anthem being sung at an international sporting event was in 1905, at a rugby match between Wales and New Zealand at Cardiff Arms Park.

Here are the lyrics, in Welsh, followed by an English translation.

Breakout Box

Welsh national anthem | Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau – “Land of My Fathers”

The Welsh around the world

Welsh expats can be found around the world. Many have emigrated to the United States, in particular Ohio, Idaho and Pennsylvania.

156 years ago, on July 28 1865, more than 150 Welsh-speaking men, women and children landed at what is now Puerto Madryn on the Atlantic coast of Argentine Patagonia. They had sailed in May from Liverpool on the Mimosa, a converted tea clipper, with the intention of establishing a community, where they could practise their language and faith free from the dictates of “English” government.

Patagonia, their leaders had assured them, was much like the green and fertile lowlands of Wales. In truth, it was a hard, inhospitable place where water was hard to come by and there were no trees to fell for fuel or building.

This article has been updated with the latest information for St David’s Day 2022.

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