St David's Day (1st March)

1st March is St David’s Day, the feast day of the patron saint of Wales. Find out about St David and the history and traditions of this national day, and some ways to celebrate.

Welsh Flag flying on St David's Day

St David’s Day events in the local area

  • St David’s Day Pontypridd is a mixture of music and other entertainment that happens on Saturday 27th February 11am-2pm in the town centre.
  • St David’s Day at St David’s Hall – The combined might of the BBC National Orchestra & Chorus of Wales, plus a stellar line-up of soloists presents one of the most important works in Welsh classical music – Missa Cambrensis by Grace Williams, narrated by Dr Rowan Williams.

The life of St David

St David of Wales or ‘Dewi Sant’ (in Welsh), was a saint of the Celtic Church. It is thought that he was born near the present town of St David’s. The ruins of a small chapel dedicated to his mother Non may be seen near St. David’s Cathedral.

An account of Dewi’s life was written towards the end of the 11th century by Rhigyfarch, a monk. Following Dewi’s education, he went on a pilgrimage through parts of South Wales and the West of England, where he founded important religious centres such as Glastonbury and Croyland. He settled in ‘Glyn Rhosyn’ (St David’s) after defeating an Irish chieftain named Boia. A very detailed account is given of the strict ascetic life required in the community which he established there. Dewi went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he was consecrated archbishop.

Many miracles were attributed to Dewi Sant. One miracle often recounted is that, once, when Dewi was preaching to a crowd at Llanddewi Brefi, those on the outer edges could not hear, so he spread a handkerchief on the ground, and stood on it to preach, and the ground rose up beneath him, and all could hear.

He was buried in what today is St David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire. The Cathedral became popular as a place of pilgrimage, especially after Dewi had been officially recognised as a saint of the Catholic Church by Pope Callixtus in 1120.

Welsh national costume

Welsh national costume - photo by Tyron Francis The popular image of the Welsh national dress of a woman in a red cloak and tall black hat developed in the 19th century. People felt that their national identity was under threat and the wearing of a national costume was one way to declare that identity.

Today the costume can be seen on St David’s Day and at tourist centres and events. The costume is based on clothing worn by country women during the early nineteenth century. The tall ‘chimney’ hat did not appear until the late 1840s and is thought to be based on a mixture of the top hats worn by men at that time and a form of high hat worn by women in country areas during the 1790 – 1820 period. The garments are commonly made from flannel or wool.

There are many different styles and colours used so that there is, in reality, no ‘national’ costume but many variations, often using what was commonly available. However, a consensus has appeared in the late 20th century and the costume is now typically, though not always, made up from the following:

  • Tall hat – made out of a hard board with thin felt or beaver fabric glued on.
  • Cap – white, worn under the hat, made of cotton or muslin with long frilled lappets extending down the shoulders, now often represented by lace trim around the brim of the hat.
  • Blouse – white.
  • Petticoat – white, now commonly with a lace edge.
  • Shawl – red flannel or wool, now commonly a paisley pattern.
  • Cloak.
  • Skirt – often made of wool, black or a black and white check pattern.
  • Apron – white and often edged with lace.
  • Black woollen stockings and black shoes.

St David’s Day celebrations

St David's Day celebration - photo by Attendre Et Rever 1st March is the date given by Rhigyfarch for the death of Dewi Sant. It was celebrated as a religious festival up until the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. In the 18th century it became a national festival among the Welsh, and continues as such to this day.

The celebration usually means singing and eating. St. David’s Day meetings in Wales are not the boisterous celebrations that accompany St Patrick’s Day in Ireland. The custom is to celebrate with traditional songs and poems in a Welsh evening called ‘Noson Lawen’. Y Ddraig Goch, the Red Dragon, is flown as a flag or worn as a pin or pendant, and either leeks or daffodils are worn, both of which are national emblems of Wales.

The leek became famous in Wales after an ancient poet (Taliesin) wrote enthusiastically about its virtues, and because a (probably fictional) legend exists that a Welsh army once attached leek to their helmets to help identify each other in a battle against Saxons. The status of the leek as an emblem is so strong that it even features on one pound coins that represent Wales. Daffodils became national emblems in the early 20th century, when Welsh born Prime Minister David Lloyd George wore daffodils on St David’s Day.

Children in schools, mainly girls, will dress up in traditional Welsh national costume. A more modern tradition has become the wearing of Welsh rugby shirts.

Welsh Americans

Mr Barack Obama - public domain photo by Pete Souza

There are a surprising number of famous Americans who claim Welsh ancestry (or have it claimed on their behalf), including Barack Obama, James Dean, Johnny Depp, Mark Hamill (who plays Luke Skywalker in Star Wars), Brad Pitt and George W. Bush. Look out for some of them to be wearing a daffodil on St David’s Day.

The Welsh language at the University

All you need to know about Welsh at University of South Wales.