St David's Day


St David's Day
(1 March)
   As the patron saint of Wales, St David is obviously more honoured there than in England. According to Times Telescope for 1823 (p. 56): 'Early on the first of March, girls of Steben Hethe, now called Stepney, used to go to Goodman's Fields in search of a blade of grass of a reddish tint'. Whoever found one would be sure to secure the husband of her dreams within a month. All over England it was believed necessary to keep your windows closed on 1 March to keep the fleas out: 'If from fleas you would be free, On 1st of March, let your windows closed be' (Sussex) or 'The Devil shakes a bag of fleas at everybody's door on 1st of March' (Shropshire).
   St David's Day was, however, the time for the English to make anti-Welsh gestures, although it is not clear why, unless it was in retaliation against the wearing of leeks which was taken to recall a famous Welsh victory over the 'Saxons'. The protest often took the form of processions carrying and burning *effigies of stereotypical Welshmen, such as that recorded by Samuel Pepys in his Diary for 1 March 1667:
   in the street in Mark-lane do observe (it being St David's Day) the picture of a man dressed like a Welchman, hanging by the neck on one of the poles that stand out at the top of one of the merchants' houses, in full proportion and very handsomely done - which is one of the oddest sights I have seen in a good while, for it was so like a man that one would have thought it was endeed a man.
   Welshmen were often portrayed as riding goats, and a correspondent to William Hone's Year Book (1832: 796) described the sale of edible 'taffies' on St David's Day, which were made of white 'parlement' in the shape of 'a Welshman riding on a goat' provided by the gingerbread sellers, but these had recently disappeared.
   ■ Wright and Lones, 1938: ii. 158-9; Brand, 1849: i. 105-7.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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