Mari Lwyd

I’ve decided to talk to you about Wales, or more specifically a Welsh Christmas tradition that is completely off the wall but also shockingly brilliant.

Most people probably haven’t got a clue that this tradition exists… Then again a lot of Welsh people have probably never heard of it either as it was mainly a ‘South Wales’ thing that went out of fashion before the Second World War. It’s called Mari Lwyd and it’s a form of Wassail (Which is another name for Carol singing… Only with more alcohol!) Mari Lwyd translates into English as ‘Grey Mare’ and it involves moving from house to house in a village or town, taking with you with the skull of a dead horse, on a stick, being carried by someone with a white sheet over their head… And they put fake eyes (usually glass) in the skull as well just to make it look even more terrifying.

The horse’s head is followed through the streets by a group of men and boys all dressed in coloured ribbons whilst (sometimes) two of them dress up as Punch and Judy. As the parade reaches each house they knock and the door and start singing, usually traditional carols. But then it gets weird.

What ensues is a rap battle (Known as Pwnco) between both sides of the door, whereby the dead horse tries to gain access to the house and the occupants try to refute it with challenges and insults. Mostly this involves  death. One rhyme I found was effectively ‘Let us in or you’re gonna die!’ Whilst all this is going on Judy brushes the front of the house with a broom and attacks people who get too close. There’s also a blacksmith who tries to shoe the horse as well, with apparently hilarious consequences. If the horse and it’s entourage win the rap battle they get to go into the house and get given food and drink before moving onto the next house and the process starts all over again.

Quite frankly if you didn’t know what was going on you’d be terrified. Say you were an old lady who knew nothing about this and you moved to a random tiny village, say a village like Hen Pidyn. Suddenly there’s a man in women’s clothing brushing your house and a dead horse at the door singing about how you’re going to die if you don’t let it in. You’d be terrified. Same for very small children I shouldn’t wonder. It’s got to be a definite way to make them cry. But whilst it might be terrifying for some it does sound absolutely brilliant. There’s a dead zombie horse singing about death…  What’s not to like?


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