Mari Lwyd in Chepstow, South Wales



Chepstow-based Morris dancing group, The Widdlers Border Morris, hosted the event, celebrating the Welsh midwinter Mari Lwyd tradition and the English custom of Wassailing. As a traditional New Year’s celebration, the festival acknowledged the changing of the seasons, using a ceremonial horse skull as a symbol of “death and rebirth.”

The earliest published account of the Mari Lwyd appeared in 1800 in J. Evans A Tour through Part of North Wales, in the year 1798, and at Other Times. Although the book itself focused on North Wales, the chapter in which the passage was included discussed the language and customs of Wales more generally. In this section, Evans related that:

A man on new year’s day, dressing himself in blankets and other trappings, with a factitious head like a horse, and a party attending him, knocking for admittance, this obtained, he runs about the room with an uncommon frightful noise, which the company quit in real or pretended fright; they soon recover, and by reciting a verse of some cowydd, or, in default, paying a small gratuity, they gain admission.

Border Morris is a tradition from the England/Wales border. During hard winters, farmers would go out dancing to supplement their income. This was a form of begging which was illegal at the time, so dancers took to wearing tatty clothing and blackening their faces to disguise themselves.


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