January 25 is Dydd Santes Dwynwen, or Saint Dwynwen’s Day, the Saint Valentine’s Day of Wales. According to one version of the story of Saint Dwynwen—and there are many—Dwynwen was the daughter of a Welsh nobleman in the fifth century who was in love with a handsome man, Maelon. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out between them, and Dwynwen fled to the woods and prayed, asking God to make her forget Maelon. An angel appeared and gave Dwynwen a potion that would help her forget Maelon and turn him into a block of ice.
Upon awakening, God granted Dwynwen three additional wishes. Heartbroken to see her love frozen, she first wished that Maelon be unfrozen; second, that she should never marry; and third, that God meet the hopes and dreams of true lovers. All three wishes were fulfilled, and as a mark of her thanks, Dwynwen devoted herself to serving god for the rest of her life.
While the popularity of Dydd Santes Dwynwen has increased considerably in recent years in Wales, it is still not as popular as St. Valentine’s Day. The Welsh often celebrate with concerts and parties, and exchange Dydd Santes Dwynwen greetings cards.
In celebration of Dydd Santes Dwynwen, enjoy this video from the 2009 Wales Smithsonian Cymru program, of Linda Griffiths and her daughter, Lisa Healy, singing a traditional Welsh love song. They are accompanied by Ceri Rhys Matthews on bagpipes. To learn more about Dydd Santes Dwynwen, visit the Web site of the National Museum of Wales. You can also explore more Welsh music, including tracks by these artists, on the Smithsonian Folkways album Blodeugerdd: Song of the Flowers–An Anthology of Welsh Music and Song.
James Mayer is an intern at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. He was a Fulbright Fellow in Turkey for the 2011-2012 academic year and is a graduate of Macalester College, where he studied History and Classics.