St David’s Day is a day of parades, concerts and eisteddfodau (festivals of music, language and culture). Flags are flown. The national anthem is sung with extra fervour. Children go to school in traditional Welsh dress, and everyone (well, almost…) proudly pins a daffodil or leek to their lapel. You’re very welcome to join in.
St David: a brief history
St David was the greatest figure in the 6th century Welsh Age of Saints, founder of scores of religious communities, and the only native-born patron saint of the countries of Britain and Ireland.
Most of what we know about St David was written by the 11th century scholar Rhygyfarch. He tells us that St David was born in Pembrokeshire around the year 500, the grandson of Ceredig ap Cunedda, king of Ceredigion. He became a renowned preacher, founding monastic settlements and churches in Wales, Brittany and England – including, possibly, the abbey at Glastonbury.
He’s said to have made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem where he became an archbishop, and established a strict religious community in what is now St Davids in Pembrokeshire, West Wales. He was famed for his pious austerity – he lived on leeks and water, apparently - and his ability to perform miracles. Once, while preaching at Llandewi Brefi, he caused the ground to rise up beneath his feet so that everyone could hear his sermon.
St David died on 1 March – St David’s Day - in 589. He was canonised by Pope Callixtus in the 12th century, and we have celebrated St David’s Day ever since.
Here’s how you can join in the party.
Visit St Davids' HQ in Pembrokeshire
Established by our patron saint in the 12th century, pretty St Davids in south-west Pembrokeshire doesn’t have much in common with places like Birmingham or London. But thanks to the presence of its huge, purple-stoned cathedral, this settlement of around 2000 people is officially the UK’s smallest city. It’s also the religious centre of Wales, with two trips here said to be worth one pilgrimage to Rome.
Naturally, there’s plenty happening on 1 March. The little city brings out the bunting for a weekend of events in St Davids Cathedral and around the town. There’s the annual Dragon Parade from Oriel y Parc, while the Ras Dewi Sant marathon is one of the toughest races, on one of the prettiest courses, in the world. The route takes runners through the undulating paths of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path around the St Davids Peninsula, with half-marathon and 10k options.
Events across Wales
The National Trust is a reliable source of lavishly-daffodilled gardens and St David’s Day events. Most of their sites will be honouring St David in one way or another. The good people who look after our castles and ancient monuments, Cadw, also arrange special events at many of their locations, sometimes including free entry - check their website for latest details.
Our seven national museums also join the party, with a host of interactive and entertaining events across Wales.
Head to St David’s Hall in Cardiff (where else?) for an afternoon of stirring Welsh song. It’s a thoroughly Welsh affair with big name musicians and orchestras playing Welsh favourites new and old.
Parades around Wales
The National St David's Day Parade is an imaginative celebration of Welsh heritage and culture that happens every year on 1 March in Cardiff city centre. It’s a non-military parade that brings together several cultural groups, school children and musicians - and plenty of locals in traditional Welsh costume. Keen vexillophiles (that’s flag enthusiasts) will spot other banners among the sea of red dragons, including the flag of St David – a yellow cross on a black field – and the red-and-yellow lions of the Welsh princes. The action usually starts in Cardiff’s Civic Centre. The procession heads down to the Hayes, where the crowd joins together in a rousing mass rendition of our national anthem, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.
There are annual processions and celebrations in several other towns across the country, including Aberystwyth, Wrexham, Carmarthen, Lampeter and Colwyn Bay.
One of the biggest shindigs is Croeso (it means ‘welcome’ in Welsh), a two-day festival of music, food and entertainment in Swansea city centre. There are food stalls, cookery demonstrations, Welsh bands, rugby for little people, giant walk-about characters, and a daffodil dash.
Have a great Welsh cake bake off
Be the king of the castle
You can hardly move for castles here. At the last count we had more than 600 fabulous fortresses dotted across our landscape. These include big hitters like the UNESCO World Heritage Site castles at Beaumaris, Caernarfon, Conwy and Harlech, plus lesser-known spots like lonely Llansteffan, Dolbadarn and Castell y Bere built by native Welsh princes. If you want to get a closer look at some of these iconic Welsh sites, we’ve got you covered. To celebrate St David’s Day, Cadw is offering free entry to many of our historic places. Storming the ramparts couldn’t be easier.