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New Year Traditions in Wales

Discover Sound - Posted 16-12-2020

While digitising sound recordings the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage team have unearthed some lost and forgotten interviews from people talking about their childhood memories back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, their school days, family life, communities, and local dialect. By saving these recordings we allow future generations to hear our past and learn about our history.

Wales is a country with a variety of customs and traditions which are an important part of our culture and history. One of these is the New Year’s tradition.

Stories about local customs from the 19th Century are being told, for instance the ‘Mari Lwyd’. A medieval folk custom, with the purpose of collecting money for the poor and homeless to make up for the lack of support from the government. A tall person was nominated to lead, holding the horse’s skull made from wood, with two others behind holding the offerings collected.

Listen to Myra Evans describing the Mari Lwyd in New Quay:

 

A transcription of this audio file can be found at the end of the blog.

 

Myra Evans recalls seeing the Mari Lwyd in New Quay in January 1887, this is one of the last sighting of the Mari Lwyd in the area.
Myra stated that the Mari Lwyd party met outside the town to start the procession into New Quay. Leading were the three men with the mare, followed by men, followed by boys over 12 years old. Each wearing a face mask so no one would recognise them.

Myra remembers that her father was away at sea in 1887, leaving just her and her mother in the house. She was told that if she wanted to see the procession that passed their home she had to be quiet and make sure no one saw her. Her mother then locked the doors to stop the men from entering the house.

The party entered every pub, large shops and rich families to ask for money for the poor. If they refused or did not give much, the party would force their way into the building and take anything they liked.

Myra saw the party pass her house from behind the curtains making sure to be quiet, and unseen. If they saw her the mother said that they would try and break into the house.

 

Calennig is another Welsh tradition, where children go from door to door on New Year’s Day, until noon, singing good wishes for the year ahead and given calennig in return. These would be either food or money.

One song sung in mid Wales was:

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i chi
Ac i bawb sydd yn y tŷ
Dyma fy nymuniad i
Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i chi

 

[TRANSLATION]

A happy new year to you
And to everyone in the house
This is my wish
A happy new year to you

 

Margaret Davies parents did not allow her to go out to collect Calennig, but recalls children calling at her house and receiving a penny or a piece of bread.

While D.J. Morgan from Abermeurig, Talsarn remembers going out for the first time with his mother and four sisters. They woke at 5am to go around Abermeurig then around the neighboring farms. He remembers that the best farm he visited was Mrs. Griffiths, where they received a piece of cake for singing, and was allowed to take another piece home with them.

 

 

Jack Poole recalls getting up at dawn and going straight to the furthest house in the village working his way back, no matter what the weather was like. Everyone enjoyed and sung verses at every door.

Jack remembers seeing a widower and her five children going around asking for Calennig with bags on their backs. They collected food such as bread or cheese. Every child carried a load on their back.

Listen to Jack reciting the verse he used to recite:

 

A transcription of this audio file can be found at the end of the blog.

 

The audio recordings are part of the Ceredigion Library Oral history collection, and can be listened to here at the Library through appointment.

 

 

Transcription: Myra Evans
[Translation]
Well, a tall man was chosen to carry the horse’s head on his shoulders to lead the parade and two other men, one on each side, helped him walk in the middle of the road. One of them was taking care of the large leather purse he had to keep the money they had, another was a good rhymester seeking gifts of money and wine and cakes from the shopkeeper or the rich. The horse head had white linen over it, the eyes and ears decorated in leather and loose colorful ribbons hanging over the neck

Transcription: Mr. Jack Poole
[Translation]
We had sing or make some noise at every door, for example
Today is New Year’s Day, I come across you
To ask for the penny or a piece of bread and cheese
Oh don’t change countenance
Don’t change anything from your look
Before next New Year’s Day comes
Many will be in their grave
And then if you were in a hurry to go, you would say
Whole Calennig on New Years day morning, once, twice, three times
And then Happy New Year

This post is also available in: Welsh

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A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.

Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.

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