Welsh Tradition in December - Mari Lwyd

Written by Anne Newman - 8th January 2020

The Mari Lwyd is an ancient mid-Winter tradition which is unique to Wales. The custom was performed during winter festivities, specifically around Christmas and New Year. However, the precise date on which the custom was performed varied between villages, and in a number of cases the custom was carried out for several consecutive nights and some regions wait until January.

The Mari Lwyd translates as the Grey Mare.

The Mari Lwyd is a horse's skull, which is decorated with colourful reins, bells and ribbons and the skull is then wrapped in a white sheet and placed on a pole and someone goes underneath the sheet to carry it around the village accompanied by a procession of people who are often dressed in traditional costume.

The Mari and her group call to houses and try to gain access by performing a series of verses, known as pwnco, challenging families to a battle of rhyming insults in Welsh. The home owners respond with their own rhymes, in a fake battle to outwit the creature and prevent her from entering the house.

One common opening went:

Wel dyma ni’n dwad - Well here we come,
Gy-feillion di-niwad - Innocent friends,
I ofyn am gennad - To ask leave,
I ofyn am gennad - To ask leave,
I ofyn am gennad i ganu - To ask leave - to sing.

The battle can continue for as long as the two parties wish, but once it's over, the Mari is let inside - as this brings the household good luck for the future year.

The Mari and her followers are then given refreshments as the celebration continues inside before moving on to the next house.

This tradition is associated with South Wales and is rumoured to be the strongest and most unbroken tradition is in Llangynwyd, Brigend.

Although the tradition declined in the early to mid-twentieth century, in part due to opposition from some local Christian clergy and changing social conditions, it was revived in new forms in the mid-to-latter part of the century.


Anne is sharing a series of events throughout the year - you can find them listed by clicking to the link Other Notable Dates and Festivals.