St David’s Day - 1 March – is one of the most colourful days of the year here in Wales. It’s 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.
National St David’s Day Parade, Cardiff
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, This year the parade takes place on Sunday 1 March and will start at 1 pm
Parades around Wales
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 on 29 February and 1 March. There’ll be food stalls, cookery demonstrations, Welsh bands, rugby for little people, giant walk-about characters, and a daffodil dash.
Hear the sound of (Welsh) music
Head to St David's Hall in Cardiff (where else?) for a stirring Welsh singalong. Welsh folk group Calan join BBC NOW to mark St David’s Day with a UK premiere of Cân Cnawd y Pridd – a suite of five compositions inspired by collections of traditional Welsh songs and tunes at the National Library of Wales. The suite is dedicated to the memory of Meredydd Evans - one of the most important song collectors of the 20th Century, and a titan of Welsh culture. The piece is a joint commission between BBC NOW and Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne.
Visit St Davids' HQ in Pembrokeshire
Naturally, there’s plenty happening in St Davids itself. 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 at the national museums
National Trust and Cadw events
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.