Saint David’s Day

By Mansel Lewis, Snowdonia

1 March

The first day of March is recognised as the Feast of Saint David, the patron saint of Wales, a religious man born into aristocracy who died in the late 6th Century after founding several monasteries in Wales. He was canonised as a saint around 600 years later, and his day has been noted throughout the United Kingdom since, though he was celebrated in Wales during his life and in the years following his death.

Saint David, or Dewi Sant in Welsh, was canonised as a national saint during the Welsh resistance to Norman rule, and became something of a figurehead to the movement. During his lifetime he discouraged the eating of meat and drinking of alcohol, and his symbol was the leek. As such, on Saint David’s Day it is traditional to wear a leek, or a daffodil which is the Welsh national symbol and a sign of the new Spring. According to tradition, Saint David ordered the Welsh military forces to distinguish themselves from the English army by wearing leeks in their helmets during a battle in a leek field, as neither was uniformed and both made of the lower classes bar the commanding officers. As such, the display of a leek shows a differential from other nations within the United Kingdom, and is a sign of Welsh pride.

If your Majesty is remembered of it, the Welshmen did good service in a garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps, which your Majesty knows, to this hour is an honourable badge of the service, and I do believe, your Majesty takes no scorn to wear the leek upon Saint Tavy’s day.

William Shakespeare, Henry V Act IV Scene VII

The Welsh flag is a regular feature during Saint David’s Day celebrations, though this was not originally the flag of the country. The famous red dragon depicted on the contemporary Welsh flag has roots going back almost to the time of Saint David, and supposedly appeared on the flags of King Arthur, who was, according to some legends, the uncle of Saint David and charged him with founding the monastery at Glastonbury. It was then used by Henry Tudor who became King Henry VII of England after he ended the Wars of the Roses by defeating Richard III.

The traditions of Saint David’s Day remain and are popular throughout Wales, as well as being celebrated elsewhere by Welsh people or those of Welsh heritage. Welsh foods are often consumed, and in some cases the traditional rural dress of Wales is worn, though this was mostly adopted to drive tourism to the country during the Victorian era. Leeks and daffodils are often on display, and though Saint David has his own flag—a gold cross on a black background— the Welsh flag with its red dragon is frequently displayed.

Mansel Lewis, Snowdonia
Mansel Lewis, Snowdonia, Public Domain