December 2nd

Mystery Tradition

Mari Lwyd - Welsh Christmas Tradition

In the first of series of mysterious traditions form around the world, Alex Cornish, our digital strategy consultant has written about the Mari Lwydd, a folk tradition from South Wales, where he is based.

Mari Lwyyd is almost certainly a tradition that predates Christmas, and Christianity itself. However, the original meaning behind the tradition and even the name is now the subject of great debate, the only certainty being that no-one is quite sure about either. The Welsh name could be translated as “Grey Mare” which would make some sense.  In common with similar folk traditions from across the British Isles, the Mari Lwyyd visits households in the days around Christmas, demanding entry and exchanging music and song for payment in food and drink. In a unique Welsh twist, a (normally) real horse skull is placed on a stick and paraded. The person carrying the skull is covered with white cloth and thus transformed into the Mari Lwydd. They are also accompanied by musicians and stock folk characters like Punch and Judy. Should a homeowner be perceived as slow or ungenerous with payment, it is not unknown for the Mari Lwydd to chase them until satisfied. Whilst the mood is always festive, the imagery is distinctly not of this world.

Whereas in the past it was common for a few individuals to visit local homes, today the Mari Lwwyd today often takes place within the context of a larger, more formal festivities.

Alex says:

As the date and time the Mari Lwyyd travels can vary, it be can be quite difficult to see it in the wild and I have managed that only once, when it visited a pub I was in. Although the tradition is meant to be a bit of fun, there’s something pretty shocking about seeing a large horse skull appear in your local. The accompanying musicians played a few songs in exchange for a round on the house. Based on the reaction of the barmaid, I don’t know if the tradition is very well known, but it is certainly unforgettable.


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In the United States, December 2nd is the National Special Education Day. It commemorates the anniversary of the nation’s first federal special education law. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was signed into law on December 2, 1972.

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