Dwynwen and books

ALTERNATIVES TO ST VALENTINE’S DAY

It has been a long time since I posted anything on here. Various sickness bugs and so many school events meant that many of the special events and ideas I was going to post about fell by the wayside in the run up to Christmas. St. Lucia’s Day, Sinter Klaas, our new home-made Jesse Tree, all failed to be celebrated properly in our house and/or failed to be written up as proper blog posts. Now it’s 2017 and so many interesting days and activities have already passed by – Twelfth Night, St. Agnes’ Eve, Candlemas – that I need to pull my socks up and get with the New Year, if rather belatedly.

One thing we did do last month was to mark St. Dwynwen’s Day. Dwynwen is the Welsh patron saint of lovers and gets her day in before St. Valentine on 25th January. Dwynwen means ‘she who leads a blessed life’ and apparently her name is pronounced something like ‘Doo-IN-wen’ for us non-Welsh speakers but apologies if that is not quite right. She was thought to have been a daughter of a fourth or fifth century King Brychan Brycheiniog, a ruler blessed with no fewer than twenty-four daughters! Dwynwen is said to have been the most beautiful of them all but I don’t suppose she ever said so herself for fear of twenty-three sisters all disagreeing violently. She fell in love with a youth called Maelon Dafodrill who lived nearby in her homeland of Anglesey, but either her father had arranged another marriage for her or Maelon himself broke her heart and poor Dwynwen sought refuge in the woods, weeping and pleading for divine assistance to forget all about him. God sent an angel who gave her a magic potion. Either she drank it to help her forget and the angel turned Maelon into a block of ice or Maelon drank it himself with the same frozen result. For some reason God then gave Dwynwen three wishes which were that Maelon be thawed out; that through her God help all true lovers; and that Dwynwen herself should never marry. Overcome with gratitude, Dwynwen became a nun and established a convent on Llanddwyn Island on Anglesey.

In the Middle Ages Llanddwyn was a shrine and site of pilgrimage. Pilgrims would come to stir the holy waters of the well and watch the movement of the fish that lived there which was supposed to predict lovers’ fates. Over time, and especially during the Reformation, Saint Dwynwen and her shrine became less and less popular and the site was rather unloved and forgotten apart from the erection of two celtic crosses in her memory in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was only in the 1960s that the notion of a St. Dwynwen’s Day re-emerged, the brain-child of a Bangor student, Vera Williams, who commissioned four designs for cards for that day as sort of alternative Valentine’s cards. In the years that followed the idea snowballed and became increasingly popular so that by the early years of this century it was an accepted observance for many people. According to visitwales.com, St. Dwynwen’s Day is celebrated by many Welsh people in a similar way to how St. Valentine’s Day is celebrated elsewhere (and probably in Wales, too!): cards, little gifts, flowers, romantic gestures, special dinners, boxes of chocolates, etc. My elder daughter made her sister’s favourite soft toy an off-the-cuff St. Dwynwen’s Day card and poem and mini-heart bunting to celebrate the occasion here in our very un-Welsh area of South London (although close to us there is a Welsh-speaking chapel!). If you think you would like to join in the fun and don’t want to wait until next year then there seems to have been some dispute about the correct day to observe St. Dwynwen’s Day and an alternative date of 13th July was once mooted so you could have a Dwynwen’s cwtch then! However, St. Dwynwen, like many women, seems to have been an excellent multi-tasker and finds time to be not only the patron saint of lovers but also of sick animals so do think of her next time you have a drooping dog or a floppy fish!

I am not a huge fan of St. Valentine’s Day myself but the first (and almost last) Valentine’s Day gift I ever received was some flowers and a book. Obviously the giver knew the way to my heart and I was the reader who married him. It fills me with joy, therefore, that 14th February is, apparently, now International Book-Giving Day! Now here’s a day we can all get in on and, unlike St. Valentine’s Day, if you don’t have anyone to give a book to or to give a book to you, you can always give yourself a book!

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