Celebrating St David's Day the Welsh Way

by JoHarrington

Grab a daffodil or a leek and boil up some cawl! March 1st is St David's Day and all of Wales will be partying.

March 1st, Cardiff, Wales

You can hear them before you can see them. A harmonic cacophony of Celtic sounds. The Welsh fiddlers are there, dressed in traditional costumes; and the brass band playing the age-old tunes.

Everyone is singing at the top of their lungs. Celebrities intermingling with the crowd. And what a crowd! They've all made an effort for this - Sunday best or fancy dress, wearing the emblems of Wales.

But it's not just the Celts celebrating here. Tiger Bay brought immigrants from across the world and they are Welsh now too.

St Davids Day celebrations 2007, St Mary Street, Cardiff, Wales
St Davids Day celebrations 2007, St Mary Street, Cardiff, Wales

They are all following the huge flag - a golden cross on a black field - and the smaller (for this day) red dragon; and they are flanking just one man, clad in his 6th century garb. The man Himself, Dewi Sant.

This is the St David's Day Parade and it happens every year.

What is St David's Day? | Beth yw Dydd Gŵyl Dewi?

It's a National Holiday to celebrate all things Welsh, have a party (or three) and incidentally honour a saint.

The Irish diaspora took St Patrick's Day around the world; but this isn't the only national Celtic saint's day being celebrated in March.

Every March 1st, the black and yellow flag of St David is flown all over Wales. Out of each kitchen wafts the aroma of cawl - a kind of soup made the Welsh way. From Gwynedd to Glamorgan, lapels are adorned with the symbols of Wales, the daffodil or the leek.

This is Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant (pronounced Deeth Goyl Dowee Sant) and events spring up all over the country. Wherever there are Welsh, there is singing and dancing, special performances and parades.

If you really want to have it large, then the capital city of Cardiff is the place to be. That's where the Royal Welsh Regiment might stand guard before the castle gates, while the streets fill with people. The grand parade is wonderful to see, with dancers and musicians coming from all over the world to participate.

Of course, the home-grown talent is there too. Players from the national rugby and football teams march with their fans, while major Welsh artists prepare their performances. The people themselves will have come dressed in eye-catching costumes. The ladies might be in traditional outfits, while more than a few dozen will have emptied the fancy dress shops of novelty giant daffodil suits.

Eventually all will disperse into smaller parties or restaurant meals, though most will throng the events laid on throughout the city. It's a special day and an amazing atmosphere; a day to really shout from the rafters, 'Cymru am byth!'  (Long live Wales!)

St David's Day Cards

Welsh Phrases for St David's Day | Ymadroddion Cymraeg ar Gyfer Dydd Gŵyl Dewi

Our language has continued despite legislation and worse, which set out to destroy it. Carry it into the future by memorising a few phrases.

Some of the things that you might want to say on St David's Day hold a mixture of patriotism, partying and defiance.

This is a Celtic culture that has survived centuries of close proximity to England. It's a country which has been subject to countless laws, designed to stamp out everything from the language to the customs. For that reason, Dydd Gŵyl Dewi is often expressed as a source of Welsh pride and relief that everything survived long enough to even have this celebration.

English Welsh Phonetically
Happy St David's Day Dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus Deeth Goyl Dowee hap-eece
Thank you and same to you Diolch ac i chi Dee-och ack ee chee
Wales forever! Cymru am byth! Cum-ree am beeth!
We're still here Yma o hyd Imah oh heed
Land of my Fathers Hen Wlad fy Nhadau Hen Wlad Vuhn Had-eye
We have come for the party Rydyn ni wedi dod i'r parti Rid-din nee weddy doe-d ere party

 

I've done my best with the phonetics, sitting here repeating things aloud to the amusement of on-lookers. Then testing the phrases on English monoglots. They're close enough!

The problem is with some Welsh sounds, which don't translate well into English. In order to truly grasp them, you will have to study further. Even learning the basics of the language will see you through the most common things you will encounter in conversation.

Learn Welsh! | Ddysgu Cymraeg!

Whether you're Welsh, have a touch of Celtic ancestry or just love this beautiful language, there's a course for you.

Who is St David? | Sy'n Dewi Sant?

The Welsh like nothing more than hanes, a word that can simultaneously mean stories, testimonies and histories. He was a bishop at a time when Celtic Pagans were being converted slowly into Christianity. The two facts are not unrelated.

There is no doubt that St David was a real man, but that isn't to say that legend doesn't cloud his story.

The Birth of St David | Mae geni Dewi Sant

The official telling of his birth is not pleasant. His mother, Non, was the daughter of a Ceredigion chieftain, over in the Pagan stronghold of West Wales. She was either seduced or raped by Sandde, then fled pregnant into the mountains.

David was born on a cliff-top, overlooking wild Cardigan Bay, in a thunder-storm. The pain of child-birth was so acute that Non scourged marks in a nearby rock; and the elements were in sympathy too. As soon as David's head crowned, lightning flew from the blackened skies and split the rock in two. Thus was Wales's patron saint delivered.

(Whoever thought that the Welsh were soft have never looked closely at any of our legends and folklore.)

However, look at that story again from a wider context and you'll see more than childbirth going on. David was the person who brought Christianity to Wales. Sandde is the Welsh translation of the Latin sanctus; in other words, holy, sacred, God. David was a child of God.

History can stick a prefix to the name of his mother all it likes, but St Non still bears the name of the Mother Goddess of the Britons. (See Ynys Mon (Anglesey); River Dee; River Don; the Irish Danu/Tuatha de Danaan; Devon (Dee's River) etc.)

Even in the mainstream telling, her name has been linked with all of the Arthurian personae, usually as the daughter of Cynyr (Connor in the Irish legends; Sir Ector in the English). Her tutor may or may not have been Merlin. Her step-mother may or may not have been Anna, an early name for Morgan Le Fey. In short, David was born from the womb of Paganism, as a child of God.

Christianity violently impregnated Paganism, leaving the old religion to flee into the wilderness. David's birth nearly killed his mother. Is that a hint of witchcraft I scent, in the way that the elements fought back, trying to destroy the newborn David?

Just in case there were any doubts left here, it's worth noting the position of Capel St Non (St Non's Chapel). It's on a headland, in a field, surrounded by neolithic standing stones, and contains a pre-Christian holy well bearing the Mother Goddess's name.

South Wales, with Capel St Non, in Pembrokeshire, marked on the map

Fly a Welsh flag from your home today!

Buy the St David's Cross or Y Ddraig Goch (the Red Dragon) to mark your allegiance on March 1st and the rest of the year too!

David the Preacher | Dewi y Pregethwr

David is said to have lived for 100 years. As he was born circa 500 CE, then that makes the entire sixth century correspond with his life-time.

He appears to have spent the entire time founding holy orders throughout Wales, but particularly in the south and west. He also traveled into Dumnonia (Dun or stronghold of the goddess Non), which is roughly where Cornwall and Devon are today, as well as Brittany. Wherever he went, Christian converts were made and more monasteries were built.

His monks lived strict and simple lives. They ate no meat, subsisting on vegetables, bread, salt and herbs. Their crops came from fields ploughed through personal effort. No animals were to be harnessed. All possessions were held in common, but very few of those were allowed.

They largely spent their lives in prayer, while engaged in the process of converting Pagans to the new religion.

David twice traveled to Jerusalem on pilgrimage. While in the Holy Land, he was anointed as an archbishop by the Patriarch. This fact was later (unsuccessfully) used to try and establish an archbishopric in Wales, that was separate to the jurisdiction of Canterbury in England.

St David's Day Medallions and Stickers

The Miracles and Prophecies of St David | Y Gwyrthiau a Proffwydoliaethau Dewi Sant

Famously, St David is said to have raised a hill at the Synod of Llanddewi Brefi, because people at the back couldn't hear his sermon. On that day, as with any other, a dove remained permanently perched on his shoulder.

On another occasion, David went to Glastonbury, in Somerset, to consecrate the Abbey there. However, Christ Himself appeared and told him not to bother.

As a child, Jesus had visited Glastonbury with his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea. The land was already consecrated.

This legend later became the basis of the poem by William Blake and the resultant hymn, Jerusalem.

And did those feet in ancient time.
Walk upon England's mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England's pleasant pastures seen!

Instead, David ordered a second church to be built, as an extension of Glastonbury Abbey. It was this which he personally blessed.

By 930 CE, the Welsh people were firmly behind St David's ideal. His religion had won the day and his reputation now strangely mirrored that of Arthur. That one day, David would return to lead his country-folk from the strangle-hold of the English.

A lluman glân Dewi a ddyrchafant, read a poem by the great prophet Taliesin, dating from that time. It translates as, And they will raise the pure banner of David, as a description of how the Welsh look on the day they are finally free of English dominance.

It is this spirit, perhaps more than the religious, these days which is celebrated on the streets of Cardiff.

Poll: Why do you celebrate St David's Day?

Pam ydych chi'n dathlu Dydd Gŵyl Dewi?
  Display results
Thank you for voting!

The Land of Song | Gwlad y Gân

Let's not forget this day is supposed to be religious. Here's Cwn Rhondda, sung by a Welsh choir led by Katherine Jenkins and Aled Jones.
Wales is known as the land of song, with good reason! Buy a CD or two to act as the soundtrack to your St David's Day celebrations.

More Wizzles about Wales!

On March 1st 2012, I visited the capital of Wales for the city-wide party that is St David's Day. It didn't disappoint.
The story behind 'Land of my Fathers' ('Mae Hen Wlad fy Nhadau') is one of poetry, bardic awen and the refusal to lay down and play dead.
Feeling a little Welsh today? Check out these ideas for outfits which invoke the national pride of Wales.
For centuries, Welsh women have got the message when presented with a hand-carved wooden spoon. It means he's very interested indeed.
Updated: 03/01/2014, JoHarrington
 
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Comments | Sylwadau


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JoHarrington on 03/02/2012

I hope that this page was adequately illuminating. :)

A belated happy St David's Day to you.

siserou on 03/02/2012

I just saw the Duchess of Cambridge wearing two small daffodils on her dress for St David's Day and wondered what the meaning of the occasion was.

JoHarrington on 03/01/2012

Y croeso! <3 Dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus!

Shonna on 03/01/2012

Diolch yn fawr, cariad!

JoHarrington on 02/26/2012

Brenda - Thank you very much. We'll keep a welcome in the hillsides for you.

Katie - I'm glad that they were useful. Are you fluent in Welsh now? :D

katiem2 on 02/26/2012

Very nice tribute to St. Davids day, I'm a bit Welsh. I really enjoyed the welsh language tutorial you've included, the maps, the welsh celebrations, the videos. A very nice tribute indeed.

BrendaReeves on 02/26/2012

Jo, you write such interesting articles. They make me want to visit that part of the world.

JoHarrington on 02/26/2012

I'm definitely your woman for Welsh history! :D With St David's Day around the corner, I was thinking that I should have concentrated on all of that this week. I was just too busy writing about manga instead. >.< (Should work on that time management...)

As we speak, I'm writing another article about Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, the Welsh National Anthem. Better late than never.

Pontypridd is beautiful, even if I did nearly get killed last time I was driving up there. The Rhondda/Cynon roads do not led themselves well to getting home in a blizzard! Still, it's times like that you realise that you're a good driver. ;)

Some of my family are just down the road, in Blaenafon.

kaazoom on 02/26/2012

I love Wales. My son was at university in Treforest, Pontypridd. We have visited Wales many times. I've never been there for St David's day, perhaps I will one day. I knew nothing about St David until I read your article. it's strange, I have been thinking about finding out more about Welsh history. I saw a programme on TV recently and it talked a bit about Welsh history, I wanted to know more.

JoHarrington on 02/25/2012

Ydy! Dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus (ar gyfer Mawrth 1st!), cariad fi. <3


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