Gower Yuletide Customs

Gower Yuletide Customs

Gower shares many of its customs with other areas of Wales. Christmas customs are no exception and The Mari Lwyd (Holy Mary/The Grey Mare) is just one. Basically it goes something like this as described in Gower Gleanings [Tucker, H.M. 1951The Gower Society]

The skull of a horse, which presumably had been exhumed after a decent and proper time, was provided with false ears and eyes and gaily bedecked with ribbons. The ensemble was fastened on a stout pole and carried by one of the party. The bearer was completely covered with a white sheet and held a string with which he could snap the lower jaw. In this way the party made the rounds of the parish and surrounding districts. Their arrival at farm or cottage was signalled by the strains of this traditional song, (or wassail) which varied in different parts of Gower:

Once I was a young horse
And in my stable gay
I had the best of everything
Of barley oats and hay,
But now I am an old horse
My courage is getting small
I’m ‘bliged to eat the sour grass
That grows beneath the wall.

Chorus: Poor old horse, let him die.
Poor old horse, let him die.

I’ve eaten all my oats and hay
Devoured all my straw,
I can hardly move about
Nor can my carriage draw:
With these poor weary limbs of mine
I’ve travelled many a mile
Over hedges, bramble bushes,
Gates and narrow stiles.

Chorus: Poor old horse, let him die.
Poor old horse, let him die.

Sometimes admittance was refused as the females were fearful of the lusty fun, but usually the male element, anticipating the antics of Brandy, the horse, unbolted the door and proffered hospitality.

(For more on the history of The Mari Lwyd in Wales see: National Museum Wales )

I’ve lived in Gower since 1973 and can firmly state that this doesn’t go on today. Yet it does in the memory. While I was researching for my PhD I was urged to ‘Know my Place’ by my Supervisor, the much-missed Welsh Poet, the late Nigel Jenkins, as outlined in his poem ‘Advice to a Young Poet’. This involved research in the traditional sense of reading and discovering the history of literature and folklore and customs of my own back yard of Gower and also research on foot, engaging with the landscape in a psychogeographic sense.

It was the coming together of legend, first hand insights into local ‘goings-on’, and the discovery of the rotting carcass of a horse on my daily walk, that prompted me to write ‘The Grey Mare’. I suppose it is a contemporary response (and twist) on The Mari Lwyd.

 

The Grey Mare by Jane Fraser©

Whether it was the heat, or all the beer he’d drunk after finally managing to get the hay in on his own that August night, but Brinley Taylor could only sleep in fits. He’d had that dream again, the same one that had recurred for almost five years. He’d had his brother by the throat, throttling him slowly, enjoying the terror in his eyes. He’d squeezed and squeezed with his thumbs on his airways until the breath had left him and his body had gone limp in his hands. When Brinley had woken, his forehead was beaded with sweat. His torso was tense and rigid and he felt as though the air in the bedroom had weight, pressing down heavy on his chest, taking his own breath away.

You can read the full story by downloading here.

Wasps

Wasps