The Welsh, it has to be said, are not seen as one of the world’s most romantic nations. The honour must surely go to the Italians or perhaps the French. The rest of the world may see us as rather dour and puritanical. However, you need only delve briefly into our culture, literature and history to see how important a part love and romance have played.
Perhaps it was our Roman ancestors who added a dash of Latin passion into our blood. When they conquered Wales two thousand years ago, it was these Romans who introduced the shady green sycamore to Wales, and it is from the sycamore that one of the most unique symbols of romance in Wales is traditionally made, the spoon.
The tradition of carving and giving love spoons is centuries old. The oldest surviving love spoon, dated 1667, is displayed at the National Folk Museum of Wales. This spoon contains the traditional elements still found in today’s spoons, but the custom stretches back further than the 17th century and its rich symbolism reaches further still into the mists of time.
The curves, squirls, circles and interlaced patterns of the love spoon echo the beliefs of our Celtic forefathers, who worked these elements to all aspects of their art. The tradition of the love spoon is a link between the Wales of today and the Wales of heroes, gods and magic.
For centuries the people who lived in the remote and isolated villages and farmsteads of Wales, created everything they needed in life, from materials around them. No hardware stores or supermarkets then! Everything was made within the community. They spun and weaved the wool of their hardy mountain sheep into cloth. They mined deep into the heart of the hills for iron and copper, shaping it at their village forges into tools to tame the land. From the forests which clothed the hills and filled the valleys, they carved household objects needed for everyday life; plates bowls and spoons. It was with a simple wooden spoon that our ancestors ate their plain fayre, these rustic items providing the only decoration on their tables.
During the long winter nights, families isolated in their crofts would gather around the fire for warmth and light. As they sang the old songs and listened to the stories of ancient days, the men would patiently carve spoons, whittling at a piece of wood, teasing a shape from the lifeless block. A unique tool evolved to carve the spoons, the “twca cam” (the curved dagger) with a long handle and hooked blade. It was with this tool that the carver fashioned the bowl of the spoon. Then with his own knife he would whittle away at the wood, creating the handle and smoothing the finished article.
As time went on, the designs on the spoons became more and more intricate. Some were double bowled, or two spoons linked with a wooden chain. The handles became longer and broader, pierced with hearts and circles. The soft curves and rounded edges became beautiful in design but impractical for everyday use and were instead given as gifts and as tokens of love.
It is believed the spoons became an invitation from a youth to a maid to begin courting, and many believe that the English term of “spooning” derives from this Welsh tradition. Other Celtic nations have similar traditions, in particular the Bretons, who carved special “marriage spoons” for presentation to a couple on their wedding day.
As many of the men who carved these spoons would have been illiterate, the love spoons with their intricate designs carried an unwritten message to the women they loved. Each symbol, lovingly carved into the spoon, carried a particular message.
Today, love spoons are not only given as messages of love to a sweetheart, but more and more as symbols of friendship and caring. The love spoon still carries its ancient message of love and understanding, but today that message goes far beyond the boundaries of Wales.
Reproduced from "The Story and Meaning of the Welsh Love Spoon"
with the kind permission of Pageant Wood Crafts