St. David's Day

The Cross of Saint David

The Cross of Saint David

     Today is St. David's Day, and it is a national day of celebration in Wales.

     Saint David is the patron saint of Wales - one of the four patron saints of the British – or Anglo-Celtic – Isles (with the other ones being St. Andrew for Scotland, St. Patrick for Ireland, and St. George for England).

     He was born in Wales, and began his ecclesiastical career as a teacher and preacher, and he became widely known throughout the Celtic world. David would go on to found monastic settlements in Brittany, Cornwall, and his native country. There, he established a Celtic monastic community at Glyn Rhosyn in Pembrokeshire, where St. David's Cathedral stands today. Among his well-known miracles was that of causing the ground to rise into a small hill at the spot where he had preached before a large crowd in the town of Llanddewi Brefi, and he eventually became a bishop.

Stained-glass window featuring St. David at the Jesus College Chapel, Oxford. Image Credit: Self via Wikimedia Commons cc

Stained-glass window featuring St. David at the Jesus College Chapel, Oxford. Image Credit: Self via Wikimedia Commons cc

     He is often portrayed with a dove, which represents the Holy Spirit that gifted David with eloquent speaking. St. David lived by example, and had a simple lifestyle which included refraining from meat and alcohol, engaging in prayer, and disavowing personal possessions. During his final sermon, he told his followers:

"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."

     At the time of his death on March 1, 589, he was said to be 90-100 years of age, and was buried at the cathedral that bore his name, where a shrine was erected. The shrine was vandalized by Viking invaders, but was rebuilt in 1275, though its decorative elements were stripped during the Protestant Reformation. In 2012, the shrine of St. David was restored again, and rededicated on the patron saint's day that year.

The Red Dragon of Wales

The Red Dragon of Wales

     Commemorations for St. David's Day go back several centuries, but it was not until 2000 that the devolved National Assembly for Wales unanimously voted to make it a public holiday, though it is not a bank holiday where most people officially have the day off - making it one of two patron saint days in the UK which is not a bank holiday (with the other one being St. George's Day in England).

     Parades are held throughout Wales in commemoration of St. David's Day, and the largest of these take place in the Welsh capital city of Cardiff, which is usually attended by the monarch of the United Kingdom or the Prince of Wales.

Charles , Prince of Wales on a visit to Wales. Image Credit: Peter Broster via Flickr cc

Charles , Prince of Wales on a visit to Wales. Image Credit: Peter Broster via Flickr cc

     In addition, people take part in eisteddfodau - a Welsh festival of literature, music, dance, and performance - and some of the Welsh regiments in the British Army conduct a military tattoo. Furthermore, castles and other significant heritage sites in Wales are usually open to the public, including Cardigan and Caernarfon castles. There is also the annual St. David's Day Run in Cardiff, which helps to raise money for local charities, and this year, there was a PugFest in Bridgend which featured a dog show, doggie dash, face painting, and other activities.

     Celebrations of the day often include the use of Welsh emblems, such as the leek and daffodil, the Welsh flag featuring the Red Dragon, and the flag bearing the cross of St. David - a gold cross against a black field. Some children as well as adults wear traditional costumes from the 18th and 19th centuries which feature Welsh flannel petticoats and waistcoats, tall hats, wool long socks, and frilled bonnets. There is also the custom of confectioners producing "Taffies" – gingerbread figures baked in the shape of a Welshman riding a goat.

St. David's Day celbrations in Cardiff BAy. Image Credit:  lilo Lil via Wikimedia Commons CC

St. David's Day celbrations in Cardiff BAy. Image Credit:  lilo Lil via Wikimedia Commons CC

     In the United States, celebrations such as these may be found in areas with significant numbers of Welsh expats and/or Americans of Welsh descent, particularly Ohio, Idaho, and Pennsylvania. Going further, it is celebrated throughout the world - from South America, continental Europe, and the Middle East.

     Here's to the celebration of one of the United Kingdom's patron saints.

     Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus! Happy St. David's Day!