Mari Lwyd & the Old New Year

At this time of year, several traditions collide in Cymru (Wales), including our own version of ‘trick or treat,’ to confuse and entertain.

On January 1st, known throughout the world as New Year’s Day, the Cymry (Welsh MariLwyd1people) encourage children and youths to employ their many poetic and musical skills to both entertain and increase their wealth.

The tradition for children is called “Hel Calennig” (The New Year Hunt). This has nothing to do with The Hunt although that is also a tradition of the first few days of the New Year in rural areas. Children are given small envelopes containing coins, provided they have done their part of the exchange by singing a folk tune of good wishes for y Flwyddyn Newydd (the New Year) to their relatives (usually grandparents). The words of the tune are:

“Blwyddyn newydd dda i chi (A good new year to you)

Ac i bawb sydd yn y ty; (and to all in the house)

Dyna yw ‘nymuniad I (that is my wish)

Blwyddyn newydd dda i chi.” (A good new year to you)

MariLwyd2For youths, Hel Calennig begins at dawn and ends at noon. Y Fari Lwyd (the Grey Mare), a horse’s skull decorated with flowers and ribbons, is carried from house to house by a group of young people who entertain the inhabitants with song and dance, as well as challenging verses from englynion (four line poems). If the inhabitants of the house cannot meet the challenge of the verses, the group was admitted to the house to enjoy cakes and ale.

This tradition has been revived in recent years by many folk dance groups throughout Cymru.

In Cwm Gwaun (Gwaun Valley), above Abergwaun (Fishguard), the community celebrates Yr Hen Galan (the Old New Year) on the 13th of January, keeping to the calendar prior to 1752. On this day, the annual game of Cnapan is played between the communities of Llawenog and Llandysul, using the gates of the two churches of the parishes as goals. Cnapan is a mixture of rugby, hockey and football (soccer). The playing field is six miles long!

MariLwyd3Some of the sayings to start the new year are:

“Eira Ionawr — bara.” (January snow = bread.)

“Tir dan ddwr — prinder.” (Land under water = starvation.)

“Tir dan eira —  bara.”(Land under snow = plenty.)

All of the images in this post are from the Amgueddfa Cymru website.


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Filed under Cymreig/Welsh, Cymru/Wales, Hanes Cymru/Welsh History

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