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Monday, March 1, 2010

Customs of St David's Day

Happy St David's Day! David, or Dewi, the patron saint of Wales celebrates his national day today and heralds the arrival of spring. Customs associated with St David's Day include the wearing of one of the national symbols of Wales, either a leek in the hatband or a daffodil in the buttonhole. The daffodil has been preferred in recent times because it's a little more practical than trying to fix a leek in a hatband. The similarity of the word daffodil to the name Dafydd, a Welsh form of David, is however probably co-incidental because the saint is known as Dewi in Wales and the name daffodil comes from affodil, a variant of the asphodel.

The significance of the leek has been the subject of a certain amount of debate. It is suggested that St David ordered his men to wear leeks in battle so that they could be identified from the enemy. Shakespeare makes reference to this in Henry V. An alternative explanation may be that leeks and daffodils are both supposed to be readily available at this time of year although there are no daffodils here yet; the coldest winter in 31 years has set them back a bit!

It was formerly customary on 1st March for visitors to help out any neighbours who had not yet finished their ploughing before the end of February. Each would bring a contribution, often in the form of a leek, to the communal meal at the end of the day.


The Scottish tradition of Whuppity Scoorie also takes place today. In the Royal Burgh of Lanark, children race around St Nicholas Church making lots of noise and armed with balls of paper on string with which they try to hit each other. The origins of the tradition are obscure but it is thought that it may relate to the lengthening of the days and the coming of spring, and have an element of chasing out evil spirits.

Traditions related in Chambers Book of Days.

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