St. David's Day

St. David's Day

Type of Holiday: Religious (Christian)
Date of Observation: March 1
Where Celebrated: Wales
Symbols and Customs: Leek

ORIGINS

The patron saint of Wales, St. David was a monk, an ascetic, and a bishop who founded or restored many monasteries and greatly influenced religious life in Wales. Although his dates are not known for certain, he may have died around the late sixth century. He died on March 1 in the Pembrokeshire town where he'd founded his first monastery, known today as St. David's, but his remains were later moved to the Abbey of Glastonbury.

St. David's Day is observed not only in Wales but by Welsh groups all over the world. It has been observed in the United States since very early times, due to the extensive migration of Welsh people to Pennsylvania at the end of the seventeenth century. Their presence eventually led to the establishment of the St. David's Society (sometimes called the Welsh Society), whose members are known for wearing LEEKS in their hats on St. David's Day and who have worked hard to preserve Welsh history and traditions. Such groups exist in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Florida as well as in New York City, where the St. David's Society has held an annual banquet on March 1 since 1835. This is a popular day on which to hold Eisteddfodau, which are traditional Welsh festivals involving competition in singing and literature. Another popular way to observe St. David's Day is with choral singing, for which the Welsh are noted.

The basis of saint day remembrances-for St. David as well as other saints-is found in ancient Roman tradition. On the anniversary of a death, families would share a ritual meal at the grave site of an ancestor. This practice was adopted by Christians who began observing a ritual meal on the death anniversary of ancestors in the faith, especially martyrs. As a result, most Christian saint days are associated with the death of the saint. There are three important exceptions. John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus are honored on their nativities (birthdays). Many who suffered martyrdom are remembered on saint days in the calendars of several Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant sects.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Leek

The leek is an herb similar to an onion and is also the floral emblem of Wales. The association of St. David with the leek is said to date back to a battle fought in the seventh century between the Welsh and the Saxons. St. David suggested that the Welsh wear a leek in their caps so they could recognize one another and avoid killing their own men. He is also said to have lived for many years on the site of what would later become one of his monasteries, eating only bread, water, and wild leeks.

To this day, new Welsh army recruits must eat ritual leeks on March 1.

FURTHER READING

Chambers, Robert. The Book of Days. 2 vols. 1862-64. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Christianson, Stephen G., and Jane M. Hatch. The American Book of Days. 4th ed. New York: H.W. Wilson, 2000. Cohen, Hennig, and Tristram Potter Coffin. The Folklore of American Holidays. 3rd ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1999. Dunkling, Leslie. A Dictionary of Days. New York: Facts on File, 1988. Harper, Howard V. Days and Customs of All Faiths. 1957. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Leach, Maria, ed. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology & Leg- end. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Urlin, Ethel L. Festivals, Holy Days, and Saints' Days. 1915. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1992.

WEB SITE

New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia www.newadvent.org/cathen/04640b.htm

St. David's Day

March 1
The patron saint of Wales, St. David was a sixth-century priest who founded an austere religious order and many monasteries and churches, and eventually became primate of South Wales. His day is observed not only by the people of Wales but by Welsh groups all over the world. There are large communities of Welsh throughout the United States—particularly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Florida—who celebrate St. David's Day with performances of choral singing, for which the Welsh are noted ( see also Eisteddfod). The St. David's Society of New York holds an annual banquet on March 1, and the Welsh Society of Philadelphia, which was established in 1802, celebrates with eating, drinking, and songs.
The leek, Wales' national symbol, is often worn on St. David's Day. According to legend, when St. David was leading his people to victory against the Saxons, he commanded them to wear leeks in their hats to avoid being confused with the enemy. In the United States, the daffodil has replaced the leek.
CONTACTS:
Welsh Society of Philadelphia
325 Kerwood Rd.
P.O. Box 7287
Wayne, PA 19087
610-256-3030
www.welsh-society-phila.org
SOURCES:
AmerBkDays-2000, p. 178
BkDays-1864, vol. I, p. 315
BkHolWrld-1986, Mar 1
DaysCustFaith-1957, p. 70
DictFolkMyth-1984, p. 612
FestSaintDays-1915, p. 37
FolkAmerHol-1999, p. 124
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 199
OxYear-1999, pp. 103, 104
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