Children all through Wales might be wearing witch or ghost costumes come October 31, going from door to door, chorusing “trick or deal with” within the hope of receiving sweets. In different phrases, the scene might be very very similar to that encountered at Halloween in the remainder of the UK.
On posters promoting Halloween occasions in Wales, the phrase Halloween is rendered in Welsh as Nos Galan Gaeaf. A standard criticism is that conventional customs presently of yr have been eclipsed by an more and more homogenised and commercialised occasion imported from the USA.
But how would Welsh individuals have celebrated Nos Galan Gaeaf in former centuries? What is its origin? And has it at all times been intrinsically linked to Halloween?
October 31 celebrations
Halloween has its origins in AD609 or AD610 when the Pantheon in Rome was transformed to a spot of Christian worship and devoted to Mary and to all of the martyrs by Pope Boniface IV, who ordered an anniversary to be celebrated.
In the eighth century, the date of the celebration on the Basilica of St. Peter was mounted on November 1. This was prolonged by Gregory IV within the early ninth century to the entire church.
This celebration was identified in English as “All Hallows Day”, and thus the eve is Halloween. It is sort of believable that there was already a seasonal competition of some type at this date and that a few of the options of this competition have been transferred to Halloween.
A standard declare is that Halloween is actually Celtic. It is true that Gaelic-speaking locations (Ireland, Gaelic Scotland and the Isle of Man) celebrated, presently, a competition referred to as Samhain, references to which abound in early medieval Irish literature. It was introduced as a time of uncanny occasions and otherworldly visitations.
The title Samhain is usually mispronounced by non-Gaelic audio system as “Sam Hain”. But it’s really nearer, in fashionable Irish pronunciation, to “sow received” (sow as in feminine pig).
However, whereas Welsh can also be a Celtic language, there isn’t a proof for Samhain having been celebrated in Wales – so, it may effectively be a Gaelic fairly than a Celtic establishment. The oft-repeated declare that it signifies the beginning of the Celtic yr is predicated on the hypothesis of comparative mythologists.
The title Nos Galan Gaeaf actually doesn’t return to a prehistoric interval of Celtic linguistic unity. The phrase calan is borrowed from the Latin calends, which means “the primary day of the month”, whereas gaeaf means “winter”.
So we are able to consider it as “the winter calends”, or “the primary day of winter”. Calan was one in every of a whole bunch of Latin mortgage phrases that entered the Brittonic language, the ancestor of the Welsh language, through the interval through which Britain was a part of the Roman Empire.
There is, nevertheless, a component of the title which does have Celtic ancestry. Calan Gaeaf by itself is November 1, however Nos Galan Gaeaf (the “evening of the winter calends”), is the evening earlier than.
Julius Caesar stated of the Celtic-speaking Gauls (who inhabited what’s now France and Belgium), that they counted the day to start on the earlier night. This is mirrored in medieval Irish, the place the time period aidche Lúain means “the evening earlier than Monday” – what we’d name Sunday evening. This is merely a linguistic fossil, nevertheless, and doesn’t show something in regards to the antiquity of Nos Galan Gaeaf.
There are medieval references to it, for instance, in poetry from the Black Book of Carmarthen, a set of early Welsh poems and manuscripts. Calan Gaeaf can also be talked about within the early Welsh legal guidelines, detailed in Thirteenth-century manuscripts, however these references are disappointingly prosaic.
And, it’s only within the fashionable interval that now we have references to Nos Galan Gaeaf customs, exhaustively catalogued within the twentieth century by the historian, Trefor M. Owen.
How individuals celebrated various considerably from area to area. Many, comparable to bobbing for apples, and numerous varieties of divination to find out who will marry who, are removed from distinctive to Wales. Nonetheless, some have an unfamiliar twist.
In south Wales, events of younger individuals would maraud from door to door like fashionable trick or treaters. In Glamorgan, boys would put on girls’s clothes. Much extra sinister have been the gwrachod (which means “witches” or “hags”) of Powys although. These have been males who would go about in pairs, dressed as an previous man and previous lady, or in gangs wearing sheep skins and masks, consuming closely and demanding presents.
The lighting of a bonfire, or coelcerth, was a notable characteristic too. Close to the fires, individuals could be protected from wandering spirits, however the return house might be a fraught enterprise. In the darkness lurked the Hwch Ddu Gwta (tail-less black sow) accompanied by the Ladi Wen heb ddim pen (the white girl with out a head).
If you need to stand out from the group of mummies and vampires this October 31, you would do worse than dressing as one in every of these grotesque characters as an alternative.
Simon Rodway doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that might profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their tutorial appointment.