A hand-carved love spoon, also written as lovespoon, from Wales (Welsh: llwy caru; plural llwyau caru) is the perfect romantic gift for Valentine’s Day, to mark an engagement or a wedding anniversary. While love spoons originally symbolised a marriage proposal, today they are also given as presents for children to parents, as simple expressions of friendship and on important life occasions. Many people also like to buy them as a souvenir of a visit to Wales or to display in the home to show their Welsh roots.
350 years of tradition
Love spoons have become particularly associated with Wales. The oldest known example dates from 1667. It is displayed with others at the National History Museum, St Fagans, near Cardiff. They have however been produced all round Europe, especially in the Celtic countries, such as Brittany where the Breton name for them translates as “marriage spoons”.
Originally, a lovespoon was a token of love carved out of wood by a young man for the girl he wanted to be his wife. He would spend hours making the very best carving that he could and then present it to his beloved. If she accepted the spoon, this showed that she accepted entering into a relationship with him. Some people think this tradition is the origin of the word “spooning”.
Here is a song sung by Lorraine King about the old custom:
Buy a love spoon for someone special
A demonstration of skills as well as of love
Farm workers carved their love spoons during the long winter evenings, or while they pastured animals, while sailors worked on them during lonely moments on long sea voyages. A single piece of wood was used for carving the spoon. Sycamore was the most popular, but wood from apple, cherry, yew, boxwood and oak was also used. The earliest lovespoons were fairly simple, but with time they became ever more elaborate. An elaborate and complex carving not only demonstrated the extent of the young man’s love, but also showed him to have handicraft skills that would be useful in the home.
They were not meant to be used as practical utensils for cooking or eating. This can be seen from the existence of some double and even triple spoons, which are totally impractical as utensils. They were hung on the wall as a visual reminder of the love between the couple. They generally vary in length from about 3 inches to about 3 feet, although the largest hand-carved lovespoon in the world (displayed at Castle Welsh Crafts in Cardiff) is a LOT larger:
Symbols used on love spoons
Each carver would use symbols representing the meaning his love relationship held for him, what he had to bring to it, and what expectations he had from it. Some of these derive from the agricultural or nautical background of the maker, while some are personal and unique.
If you want to buy a love spoon for your beloved, you may wish to select one with symbols that have most meaning to you. As well as browsing through ranges of ready-made lovespoons, you can also possible to commission a skilled craftsman to carve a special one with your own very personal symbols.
The following are some of the symbols used most frequently on Welsh love spoons. Two or more are often combined into a single design. The image shows a spoon with the first three symbols on the list.Heart: the traditional symbol of love, visual expression of the statement “I give my heart to you”. Double spoons often have a heart carved into each bowl to signify the mutual exchange of promises.
Padlock: a promise of faithfulness, also a symbol of security
Wheel: either a ship’s wheel or a wagon wheel signified a promise to steer the relationship on a safe course
Bell: hopes of wedding bells
Keys: these could appear with a padlock or with a keyhole, the meaning being that the beloved was given the keys to the heart of the carver
Birds: love birds
Ball/s in a cage: the number of balls signified the number of children desired
Chain links: a wish to be together for all time
Diamond: hope for wealth or good fortune
Comma or paisley shape: the soul and a symbol of extremely deep love, “soul mates”
Spade: willingness to work
Horseshoe: good luck
Anchor: steadfastness, coming home to stay
Vine or leaves: growth of love, evergreen love, with fruit to symbolise fruitfulness
Twisted rope: oneness, union
Dragon: protection, also a symbol of Wales
Ship: smooth passage through life
Harp: music, harmony, also a symbol of Wales
Tree: strength and fertility
You can even try carving a lovespoon yourself!