A true Welsh celebration

Hen Galan

In a small wooded valley near Fishguard, the inhabitants of Cwm Gwaun are getting ready for their annual New Year celebrations on the 13th of January.

No, they’re not two weeks late – they still run according to the old Julian Calendar.

The Julian calendar was abolished controversially in 1752 and replaced with the Gregorian calendar, which was approved by Pope Gregory XIII nearly 200 years earlier. But the people of the Gwaun Valley resisted the change.

In true Welsh tradition, the children go from door to door singing and are given ‘Calennig’ in return: sweets or money.  The most frequently heard one in these parts in this little ditty:


Blwyddyn Newydd dda i chi / A happy new year to you

Ac i bawb sydd yn y tŷ / And to everyone in the house

Dyma fy nymuniad i / This is my wish

Blwyddyn Newydd dda i chi / A happy new year to you


In the Dyffryn Arms, or Bessie’s infamous front room pub which has been in the same family since 1840, revellers gather to share a tipple, and the locals cook a large meal for the family. Traditionally Hen Galan was a bigger celebration than Christmas, so turkey or goose was the regular table offering.

The National Library of Wales
Children go from door to door singing and are given ‘Calennig’ in return: sweets or money

Another Welsh tradition at this time of year is Mari Llwyd, where a horse’s head is paraded around on a pole, decorated with ribbons and greenery. In years gone by this used to be a real horses skull, but in the last few decades, a wooden effigy has been preferred!

The origins of Mari’s name are, like the horse herself, are deeply mysterious. One Welsh translation of it, Grey Mare, connects it to the heritage of pale horses in Celtic and British mythology, many of whom can cross over to the underworld (Rhiannon in the Mabinogion rode a white horse, for example).

The National Museum of Wales

Mari is traditionally taken around a village, often between Christmas Day and Twelfth Night. Mari is usually accompanied by singers and when the group get to a house, they sing Welsh language songs or wassails, or more traditionally indulge in a ritual called pwnco: an exchange of rude rhymes with the person who lives there. If Mari and her gang get entry, the household is said to have good luck for the year!

Tafarn Sinc, a community pub in the north Pembrokeshire village of Rosebush continue this tradition. It’s a wonderful evening packed full of singing and a great place to hear the Welsh language spoken. Check out their Facebook page for details of Mari’s next visit.

So if like us, Christmas and New Year passed you by a little too quickly this year, or if you’re here on a winter break, head on down to the Gwaun Valley to extend the festive period, it’s like stepping back in time and really worth exploring. It’s a superb area of Pembrokeshire, perfect if your spending 48 hours in Fishguard.

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda.

Tafarn Sinc

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Cwm Gwaun Valley, a hidden and utterly unspoilt Ice Age-carved remnant, surrounded by steep, wooded hills in the Preseli Mountains.

James Ruddy for The Irish Times