The history of Halloween in Wales, “Calon Gaeaf”
Calan Gaeaf (1st November) is traditionally celebrated as the first day of winter. With summer at an end, the harvest brought safely in, and shorter days and longer nights taking hold, Calan Gaeaf was a rousing celebration of all that had gone before. It was also a respectful nod towards what was to come - the death of nature and a hard winter, but with the promise of spring and rebirth.
Naturally, the night before Calan Gaeaf took on special significance too. In Wales, it is called Nos Galan Gaeaf. People believe that on this night, the spirits walk and the veil between the living and the dead thins. If you know about Mexico's Day of the Dead, you may see some similarities!
Not only was Calan Gaeaf the beginning of winter, it was an opportunity to reunite with loved ones long departed.
Of course, there were several rituals associated with the festival, some which have faded into history and some which still happen to this day!
Y Ladi Wen
Being a supernatural festival, Nos Galan Gaeaf also permitted less welcome spirits to enter the world.
Y Ladi Wen (the White Lady) was said to guard crossroads and graveyards against other, more sinister ghouls. It’s also said that when she wasn't on duty she was an effective threat for naughty children!
In North Wales, Hwch Ddu, the Black Sow, was one of Calan Gaeaf's more frightening apparitions. At the end of the festival, as the bonfire died down, a shout went up:
Adref, adref, am y cyntaf! Home, home at once!
Hwch ddu gwta a gipio'r ola! The tailless black sow is sure to roam!
Everyone would run home in fear of being eaten by this fearsome beast - quite often a member of the village dressed in a pigskin - it was a good way to end the party and get the kids to bed!
The end of October was also the end of harvest time. If the weather had been kind and the crops bountiful, the stores would be full for the hard months ahead. Giving thanks for the harvest, people would eat a special meal on Nos Cala Gaeaf, called stwmp naw rhyw. Containing a selection of vegetables, this hearty dish would be cooked in a large cauldron over a roaring fire.
The dish contained nine key ingredients including carrots, parsnips, potatoes, turnips, leeks, peas, milk and butter - but could be made with any crop which had been abundant in the harvest.
Consuming this meal was meant to keep evil spirits at bay and sometimes a wedding ring was concealed in the mixture, to be found by a lucky young person who, it is said, would marry soon!
Would you try this dish?
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