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Calan Gaeaf is the name of the first day of winter in Wales, observed on 1 November. The night before is Nos Galan Gaeaf, an Ysbrydnos when spirits are abroad. People avoid churchyards, stiles, and crossroads, since spirits are thought to gather there.
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What happens during Calan Gaeaf?
Children and women would dance around a village fire and, during this process, everyone would write their names on rocks and place them in and around said fire. When the fire started to die out they would all run home- whereas if they stayed, 'Yr Hwch Ddu Gwta' (a bad omen that took the form of a tailless black sow with a headless woman) would devour their souls. It is believed that the traditions and stories surrounding 'Yr Hwch Ddu Gwta' were survived by local parents as a means of ensuring their children would return home safely and as early as possible on this cold, dark night. One particular rhyme shows how the last child out on Nos Calan Gaeaf was at risk of being eaten by the fearsome beast:
Adre, adre, am y cynta', Hwch ddu gwta a gipio'r ola'.
(Home, home, on the double, The tailess black sow shall snatch the last [one].)
Afterwards men would go from door to door holding a mare's skull (some use a real skull whilst others use straw to create a mock skull) dressed as a ghost, decorated with jewellery and expensive garments - this 'being' is called 'Mari Lwyd' and she is created to ward off evil. The tradition seems to follow the trends of ancient mummering. The reason these men would visit each house was to cleanse the residents' home so that they would be safe during the winter time when food was scarce. By not tipping the guests, bad spirits would remain in the residents' homes, so the men sung, read poetry and even danced and the residents would then tip them with anything they had on hand (money, bread, beer etc.) and they would continue to do the same to the next house. With each house, they would become more and more jolly due to the fact that they would become progressively more intoxicated in the process.
The following morning, a village elder would visit the dead fireplace around which the children and women had danced on the previous night. All the stones containing villagers' names would be checked. If, however, a stone was missing, the person who wrote their name on the stone would die within one year.
- Coelcerth: Families build a fire and place stones with their names on it. The person whose stone is missing the next morning would die within the year
- Yr Hwch Ddu Gwta: Legend has it that a fearsome spirit called Yr Hwch Ddu Gwta took the form of a tail-less black sow and roamed the countryside with a headless woman – children would rush home early
- Eiddiorwg Dalen: A few leaves of ground ivy is thought to give you the power to see hags. For prophetic dreams a boy should cut ten ivy leaves, throw away one and put the rest under his head before he sleeps. A girl should take a wild rose grown into a hoop, creep through it three times, cut it in silence, and go to bed with it under her pillow
- Teiliwr: In Glamorgan tailors were associated with witchcraft. They supposedly possessed the power to ‘bewitch’ anybody if they wished
- Twco Fala/fale: Ducking apples
- Davies, John; Jenkins, Nigel (2008). The Welsh Academy Encyclopaedia of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. ISBN 978-0-7083-1953-6.
- Davies (2008), pg 107.
- "Nos Calan Gaeaf - Northern Hemisphere". Druidic Dawn. 2007-10-20. Retrieved 2015-10-30.
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