St. David and Taffy-on-a-Stick (1910)

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Fri Dec 21 02:22:16 UTC 2001

   ANS-L is having a "St. David" thread, but I'll send this to ADS-L as well.
   From TABLE TALK, February 1910, pg. 86, col. 1:

_St. David and Taffy-on-a-Stick_
   _F. C. Evans_
A number of words in the English language are derived from the names of saints.  _Maudlin_, for instance, comes from St. Magdalene, _valentine_ from St. Valentinus.  It is very probable that the name of the humble confection, beloved by the children, known as taffy-on-a-stick is connected with that of the patron saint of Wales.
   March first is St. David's Day, the national holiday of Wales.  Very little actual fact is known about St. David, except that he was one of the early leaders of the Welsh church.  He established monasteries and founded the bishopric now known by his name.  He died about the year 550, and a shrine in the present cathedral of St. David's is said to enclose the bones.
(Col. 2--ed.)
   But if the authentic history of this personage is meagre, the legends that cluster around his name are many in number and fantastic in character.  His birth is reputed to have been predicted by a divine messenger, he was frequently attended by celestial beings, the Bath waters became warm and salubrious through his agency, he healed the sick and raised the dead, when he preached a snow-white dove perched on his shoulder.  A remarkable tradition concerning his birth is preserved in a prayer that used to be said in Salisbury Cathedral on St. David's Day; viz., "Oh God, who, by Thy angel didst foretell thy Blessed Confessor Saint David thirty years before he was born, grant unto us we beseech thee, that, celebrating his memory (Pg. 87, col. 1--ed.), we may by his intercession attain to joy everlasting."
   Welshmen celebrate St. David's Day by wearing the leek, a plant that might be regarded the shamrock of Wales.  Shakespeare alludes to this custom in several places.  On this day one of the Welsh regiments of the British army gives a banquet, in which the leek plays a prominent part.  The origin of wearing the leek is obscure; there is reason to believe it a relic of some pre-Christian festival connected with the revival of vegetation in the spring time.
   In England there was once a custom of hanging a Welshman in effigy on this day, possibly a survival of a time when a real Welshman was slaughtered by the invading heathen Saxons.  In 1667 Pepys wrote in his diary, "In Mark Lane, I do observe, it being St. David's Day, the picture of a man dressed like a Welshman, hanging by the neck upon one of the poles that stand out at the top of one of the merchant's houses, in full proportion and very handsomely done; which is one of the oddest sights I have seen a good while, for it was so like a man that one would have thought it was indeed a man."  This (Col. 2--ed.) practise was very common at one time, and until the middle of the nineteenth century, bakers made gingerbread Welshmen, called taffies, on St. David's Day, which were made to represent a man skewered.  "Taffy" is a diminutive of David, a common name in Wales.  "Taffy was a Welshman."
   Now the sweetmeat known as taffy-on-a-stick consists of a piece of molasses candy impaled on a skewer.  It is not improbable that this is a descendent of the impaled Welshman, for the transition is easily made from ginger cake to candy _via_ such confections as "Scotch cake" etc.  This probability is strengthened by the fact that most of the dictionaries are silent regarding the derivation of the word "_taffy_," while a few go as far as the Malay language to find its root in the word "_Tafia_," a kind of rum.  But the above chain of facts would indicate that "taffy" (in England "toffy") as a general term for a type of candy has arisen from the name of a special kind of candy derived from the English nickname for a Welshman, which is in turn a result of so many Welshmen bearing the name of David their patron saint.

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