You may think I’m 10 days too late, but if you were following the old Julian calendar you would realise that I’m three days early. 13 January is known in Wales as ‘yr Hen Galan’ (the old New Year’s Day). Some areas, notably the Gwaun Valley, near Fishguard, will see children collecting ‘calennig’ today rather than on January 1st. Calennig is the New Year’s gift and was traditionally collected house-to-house on the morning of New Year’s Day. It’s similar to the current ‘trick or treating’ custom on Halloween. However, the ‘calennig’ does not involve dressing up and there is no ‘trick’ element. Children greet householders with verses wishing them a happy and prosperous new year and asking for a little something in return.
A separate event also celebrated on Hen Galan is the revival of the old tradition of the Mari Lwyd (grey mare) pictured above. Until the early 20th Century, groups of men would visit houses accompanied by a horse’s skull dressed in sheets and ribbons similar to the one in the image above. They would sing verses to the householders asking to be invited in for food and drink. Householders would then reply with their own witty verses and the verbal jousting known as ‘pwnco’ would continue until the horse and company were allowed in. This tradition, as opposed to the calennig, might have included an element of threat similar to that in trick or treat as the group might claim that the ‘horse’ would cause havoc unless invited in. Today, the Mari Lwyd is often taken from pub to pub rather than house to house. Cardiff’s version of the event will include the appearance of the Mari and group who will sing some of the traditional songs in the dialect of south east Wales and collect money for charity.
We wish you a Happy (old) New Year – watch out for the Mari Lwyd on the streets Saturday night.