A merry, scary, midwinter festival of Wales is the Mari Lwyd, (GreyMare) in English. This fun yet peculiar festival was recorded as early as 1800 in ‘A tour through Part of North Wales’by late author J. Evans.
The Mari Lwyd is linked to pale horse legends such as in the Celtic medieval Mabinogion,where the Welsh witch Rhiannon rides her majestic white horse down a road in order to speak with Prince Pwyll of Dyfed.
The Welsh and the Britons share various ancient ‘hooded animals’ customs displayed in local town parades. One or more celebrants cover themselves with a long white sheet, attached with the head of a fleshless horse skull. The horse skulls are decorated with festive lights, bells and ribbons. Mari Lwyd is accompanied by other folk characters such as a Lady and a skillful Jester.
The Mari Lwyd and its celebrants begin wassailing door to door on Christmas day up to the Twelfth Night. It includes performances similar to Mummer’s Plays, with witty verses and singing. It’s believed to be good luck to every household the Mari Lwyd enters.
One custom called pwnco depicts the wassailers bantering with the occupant of each house both exchanging rude rhymes. An enjoyable time had by all.
Source & Reference:
*Evans, J. (1800). A Tour Through Part of North Wales, in the Year 1798, and at Other Times. London: J. White.
*Ettlinger, Ellen (1944). “The Occasion and Purpose of the ‘Mari Lwyd’ Ceremony”. Manual. 44
*Owen, Trefor M. (1987) . Welsh Folk Customs(new ed.). Cardiff: National Museum of Wales. ISBN 978-0863833472.
*featured photo of Mari Lwyd Wiki Commons a public domain