(Welsh) love is all you need…

January is super depressing; we all know this. Yesterday was Blue Monday, which in itself was basically a faux-scientific marketing tool…but it still managed to be excessively bleak, so I thought I’d look ahead to a more jolly day in January: the 25th, Dydd Santes Dwynwen.

What’s Dydd Santes Dwynwen…I asked about 5 years ago when my Welsh husband, The Goblin, mentioned it. In very simple terms, it’s a sort of Welsh Valentine’s Day, and, like Valentine’s Day, it’s rooted in the (sometimes violent) life of a Christian patron saint of love. Huzzah! It’s got everything The Goblin and I need from a holiday: medieval history, avoiding other people, and feeling slightly smug for avoiding the more commercial option…

Source: Giphy

But first things first: who was St. Dwynwen? There are a few different narratives for this (unsurprisingly, since it’s a mixture of Celtic and Christian lore), so I’m going to go with the most cohesive and least unpleasant one (because, believe me, some are unpleasant!).

Most stories agree that sometime around the 5th century CE, a girl named Dwynwen was born to Brychan Brycheiniog, either the son of an Irish king or a Welsh proto-king. She lived in the modern-day Brecon Beacons area, and, as the prettiest of Brycheiniog’s 24 (!) daughters, attracted a lot of attention. Maelon Dyfodrull, an at-first-seemingly-generic male character, fell in love with Dwynwen, and she returned his affections (again, not in every version). However, due to her aforementioned beauty, Dwynwen’s father had been planning to marry her off for political gain, and forbade the union.

Source: Pinterest

Maelon, clearly an entitled piece of work, lost his shit at Dwynwen when he heard the news, and, afraid and upset, Dwynwen did what any heartbroken teenage girl would do in the 5th century: she ran off into the woods to weep. Maelon followed her in a rage (in a the more adult and perhaps more believable version of the story, it gets a bit Law and Order SVU at this point) and, frightened of what he would do, Dwynwen prayed to stop loving him. An angel, taking pity on her, gave her a potion to drink to forget him, and turned him into ice to stop him being a threat. The angel then granted her three wishes, and the kind hearted Dwynwen prayed for Maelon to be thawed, then that God should help all true lovers, and finally that she herself should never have to marry.

Source: Pinterest

Wishes granted, Dwynwen demonstrated her gratitude by becoming a nun and founding a convent on the beautiful island of Landdwyn, in Anglesey. It might seem an extreme response to a bad experience with someone’s advances, but I can see the appeal of being a hermit on a beautiful island… After her death in 465CE, the church became a pilgrimage spot for young lovers. You can still visit the remains of the convent today, and peer into St Dwynwen’s sacred well (I see you giggling over there) to see the sacred fish and eels who, legend has it, will tell your romantic future with their movements…

The cult of Dwynwen remained strong over the centuries despite the attempts of the Reformation to quash such activity, and even today there is an annual service at her ruined church. It might have something to do with her seemingly cheerful and hopeful nature despite the crappy hand she got dealt; the best-known saying attributed to her is ‘Nothing wins hearts like cheerfulness’. D’awwww.

Like any good legend, there appears to be a kernel of truth in the story of St. Dwynwen, as this extremely interesting article explains in a more scholarly way than my armchair research allows! Sadly there seems to be no authentic hagiography of Dwynwen, which is a shame given what it could reveal about 5th century Welsh society, but given her appearance in early genealogies of her father, it does seem she was a real person at least.

Source: Pinterest

Dydd Santes Dwynwen has only been celebrated in earnest as a lovers’ day since the 1970s, as a rebellion against the commercialisation of Valentine’s Day…which suits the Goblin and I just fine! One of the main reasons we celebrate DSD rather than Valentine’s is that it’s much easier to get a table somewhere nice, and you’re not surrounded by snogging couples, teddy bears and heart balloons… The celebration is an interesting mix of ancient and really modern, and I kind of like that it’s simultaneously traditional and a modern invention.

However, despite DSD’s youth, some much older Welsh traditions have been tied into the celebration, most notably the carving of lovespoons. Lovespoons were first recorded in Wales in the 17th century CE, although it’s believed the tradition is much older. They also have a really interesting symbolic language of their own, of which more here. They are meant to show off the skill of a woodcarver, and I think this selection succeeds…

Source: lovespoons.co.uk

And, of course, DSD involves the giving of cards and gifts…

Available at Draenog on Etsy

…and going out for such a big dinner your special occasion undies are totally pointless!


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