Cardiff celebrates the New Year with music, ice skating and
fireworks, the people of the small village of Llangynwyd near
Bridgend celebrate in a totally different and unique way.
The village is home to the Mari Lwyd, one of the strangest and
most ancient of a number of customs with which people in Glamorgan
and Gwent used to mark the passing of the darkest days of
The Mari Lwyd consists of a mare's skull fixed to the end of a
wooden pole; white sheets are fastened to the base of the skull,
concealing the pole and the person carrying the Mari. The lower jaw
is sometimes spring-loaded, so that the Mari's 'operator' can snap
it at passers-by. Coloured ribbons are usually fixed to the skull
and to the reins.
During the New Year's Day ceremony, the skull is carried through
the streets of the village by a group of people and calls at a
number of houses and pubs along the route.
The tradition involves the arrival of the horse and its party at
the door of the house or pub, where they sing several introductory
verses. Then comes a battle of wits (known as pwnco) in which the
people inside the door and the Mari party outside exchange
challenges and insults in rhyme. At the end of the battle, which
can be as long as the creativity of the two parties holds out, the
Mari party enters with another song.
Victory in the debate would ensure admission into the house for
the Mari Lwyd group, to partake of cakes and ale and perhaps
collect a money gift as well.
The tradition can still be seen today in Llangynwyd as well as
several other villages in Southern Wales.
(Thanks to www.folkwales.org.uk and www.museumwales.ac.uk for providing
information for this blog and Cardiff Boy 2 for the