25 January is the day of Saint Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers. A Welsh equivalent of St Valentine’s Day, the day commemorates Dwynwen, whose legend goes roughly as follows: in the 5th Century Dwynwen, one of the daughters of King Brychan Brycheiniog, was promised to Prince Maelon who did not accept her wish to remain chaste until marriage and attacked her. In punishment, God froze him into a block of ice. Dwynwen was then granted three wishes, one of them was to free Maelon from the ice, the second was that God may bless all those who are in love and the last was that she would never marry.
Dwynwen’s church lies on the beautiful island of Llanddwyn. The island, which is accessible on foot at low tide, was used as location for the Hollywood film Half Light starring Demi Moore. Until the Protestant Reformation, and possibly even after it, the cult of Dwynwen was widely practised by local people. Her church became a popular pilgrimage site and a destination for young couples. There was even a belief that the well, in addition to having healing properties, was home to fish that could divine whether a woman’s suitor could be trusted.
The legend was revived in the 1960 and ‘70s by the Welsh language movement. Dwynwen’s day is now celebrated at special events and at school. Commercial cards are also available, though perhaps not to the extent of St Valentine’s Day. One blogger recounts (in Welsh) how he visited Asda after seeing their advert for St Dwynwen cards only to be met by incomprehension by the supermarket’s staff.
If commercialisation is not to your taste, why not choose to perform kind acts for your beloved on this special day? The most famous Welsh courting custom is the carving of a love spoon. Men would carve these for their sweethearts and adorn them with various symbols. Keys symbolise the key to his heart, wheels symbolise working hard and beads the number of future children. The tradition of jumping the broomstick, now understood to mean eloping, was a fertility rite borrowed from Welsh Romanies (gypsies). “Kidnapping” the bride on her wedding day was also a popular form of mischief.
If you plan to celebrate St Dwynwen’s day, make sure you learn the words ‘Rwy’n dy garu di’ (I love you). To learn more about Welsh culture and language, contact us about our bespoke Welsh courses.
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