by Gordon Nary
St. David (Dafydd or Dew) was a sixth century Celtic monk and the patron saint of Wales He is remembered for converting the pagan tribes of Wales to Christianity, similar to another Welshman's (St Patrick) conversion of the pagan tribes of Ireland during the previous century. March 1 was declared a national day of celebration in Wales in the 18th century and is still a major patriotic and cultural festival in Wales and around the world. A poll conducted for Saint David's Day in 2006 found that 87% of the Welsh wanted March 1st to be a bank holiday, with 65% prepared to sacrifice a different bank holiday to ensure this. A petition in 2007 to make St David's Day a bank holiday was rejected by Prime Minister Tony Blair.
St David's Day is invariably celebrated by Welsh societies throughout the world with dinners, parties, recitals and concerts. On St. David's Day the David fanatics wear either a leek or a daffodil, similar to the wearing of a green carnation on St. Patrick' day. Women generally wear the daffodil (the Welsh national flower) and men the leek (Saint David's personal symbol). Leeks are also worn by Welsh rugby fans at international rugby games.
The legend of the David and the leek began during a battle of Heathfield in 633 AD between the Welsh and the Saxon invaders. The Welsh were slowly losing. In the heat of the battle, it was difficult to tell friend from foe. David was ministering the the wounded and cried out "Welshmen, you must mark yourselves so that you can better tell who is Saxon and who is Welsh." The monk plucked a leek plant from the ground and continued, "Here, wear these so you will know that any soldier who does not have a leek is your enemy."
Although the soldiers thought that David's order was ludicrous, he was perceived a a holy man so they went along with it. Soon every Welsh soldier was wearing a leek on his helmet. Believing that God would now protect all those who wore a leek, the Welsh attacked the Saxons and won the battle. Shakespeare commented on the legend as "an ancient tradition begun upon an honorable respect" (Henry V, Act V, Scene 1). David died on March 1st, 589. His remains were buried at what is now the Cathedral of St. David's in Pembrokeshire, west Wales. Pope Callactus II canonized David in 1120.
Every year parades are held in Wales to commemorate St. David. The largest of these is held in Cardiff .In the town of Colwyn Bay in north Wales, an annual parade through the centre of town is now held with several hundred men, women and and children taking part. Children take part in school concerts or eisteddfodau, with recitation and singing being the main activities. Formerly, a half-day holiday was afforded to school children. Officially this custom does not continue, although the practice can vary on a school-to-school basis.
Public celebrations of St David's Day are becoming more commonplace. In many towns an annual parade through the center of town is now held (see above). Concerts are held in pubs, clubs, and other venues. It is invariably celebrated by Welsh societies throughout the world with dinners, parties, recitals and concerts. On this day many people wear daffodils (Cenin Bedr.or literally :Peter's leek"), the traditional national flower of Wales. In 2003 in the United States, St. David's Day was recognized officially as the national day of the Welsh, and on March 1 the Empire State Building was floodlit in red, green and white, the national colors of Wales
St. David's Day is celebrated with leek dishes. In North Wales one eats a bowl of Cawl Cennin (leek and lamb soup) for strength and luck. Leeks should be purchased as fresh as possible. Never buy leeks wrapped in plastic or cellophane. Select leeks with a clean white slender bulb, at least two to three inches of white, and firm, tightly-rolled dark green tops. The base should be at least 1 inch in diameter, although most are much larger, usually 1&1/2 to 2&1/2 inches. The younger the leek, the more delicate the flavor.
Although there isn't a film on St. David's life, there is a great historical film clip of a St. David's Day Parade in 1936 on YouTube with f Prince Edward (Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, Duke of Windsor) presenting leeks to men, officers and veterans of the Welsh Guards
Cawl Cennin (Leek and Lamb Soup)
2 TB butter 1/2 lb cubed lamb 1 small onion, diced 3 cups chicken stock 1 large potato, diced 2 parsnips, diced 4 leeks sliced salt and freshly ground pepper to taste juice of 1/2 lemon
Melt butter in pan and sauté lamb until brown, remove lamb from pan.
Soften onion in same pan until golden. Return lamb to pan.
Add stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes
Add potato and parsnips, and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Add leeks and simmer for another 10 minutes.
Add salt and pepper and a lemon juice.