St David is the patron saint of Wales, and every year on 1 March is his feast day. In the 18th century, it was declared a Welsh national day of celebration, and it’s kind of like Welsh Canada Day. (I realize that is an unbelievably touristy statement that completely ignores the religious and traditional significance of the day, as well as the sense of national identity in Wales that is distinct from its role in the UK, but when people are running about in dragon onesies, it’s the closest parallell I can draw.)
In 2014, 1 March fell on a Saturday, and I had tickets to the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales concert. It was broadcast live on BBC Radio Three, and was the world premiere of a specially commissioned piece featuring Celtic prayers. The performace was absolutely stunning, and worth every pound and pence I spent. The concert gave me the incentive to hop the train to Cardiff, and I had a really great weekend. I kicked off Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant (that’s St David’s Day in Welsh, which is a beautiful language) by heading to Cardiff City Hall to watch (and follow!) the parade.
The staging area for the parade participants was charmingly disorganized, and about half of the people milling about were neither performers nor family of, but just people like me who wanted to take a few snaps of the people and props up close before things kicked off.
And things did kick off – about 10 minutes late, mostly delayed by the fellow who was meant to rally the troops droning on a bit and getting rather confused about his role. Lots of the performers in the parade were really quite fantastic, and the pride and excitement in both the participants and the crowd got me all swept up in the excitement, and I wound up buying a Cymru (Wales) scarf and joining in the chanting and singing.
It turns out if you put a Canadian girl down in Oxford she’ll listen to Radio Four and lurk around in the Bodleian Libraries, and if you then pick her up and put her down in Wales, she’ll drink Brains beer (it’s a real thing) and shout at the rugby on telly. Anyhow, back to the parade.
The Welsh flag is bloody fantastic – green and white with a big red dragon on it, it lends itself wonderfully to costumes and facepaint, which was taken advantage of with great effect by both performers and spectators.
The flag of St David, however, is a yellow cross on a black field, and was used rather sparingly in the celebrations. The two national emblems of Wales were well-represented, though: the daffodil was by far and away the most popular (being in season in March helps), though there were plenty of leeks (St David’s personal symbol) pinned to lapels.
Some people joined up to the end of the parade and followed it all the way around to Cardiff Castle, and I originally planned to do this, but changed my mind when I spotted the cobbled streets on the route. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t get the hang of walking on cobbles. Even in running shoes I’m apt to turn an ankle, to say nothing of heels or even my cute black flats. I don’t know how the horses did it when cobbles were common – if I’d been drawing a cart back then, it would have been all over the road before you could say “go home horse, you’re drunk.”
I cut the route short and headed over to Cardiff Castle, which was offering free admission on St David’s Day. It was also the endpoint of the parade, as well, and rumour had it that there would be a short open-air concert. Sure enough, once the tail end of the parade made it inside the walls, there was a national anthem singlaong (which I could not, of course, participate in as I have no idea how the Welsh national anthem runs (I can do “God Save the Queen”, though)), and then some performances from some of the groups in the parade.
I wandered around the castle a bit, but I had seriously underestimated the numbers of people who would take advantage of the free admission, and after getting lost in a WW2 bunker and caught in a tour group from Japan, I bid farewell to Cardiff Castle and got on with my day.