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The Story of the Mari Lwyd

What is the Mari Lwyd? Have you ever heard of the Mari Lwyd? Why are the Welsh parading a dead horse?

The image above may be scary to you. It may be funny. It may just be puzzling. You’d be forgiven for any of those feelings. To me, the Mari Lwyd looks fun. She looks like the best partner in crime to enjoy a night on the town with, or to dance around a spitting bonfire in the dead of night, with cheers and alcohol aplenty.

But who is she?

Well, she’s a Welsh icon. The traditional Welsh custom, first recorded in 1800, saw groups of men at Christmas time parade a hobby horse, made from a horse’s skull, around their local towns. The individual operating Mari would be hidden under a sackcloth.

The group would travel to local houses, where they would request entry through the medium of song. The householder could then decide whether or not to grant entry, again through song. This would continue until the householder relented, and the Mari ensemble could enter the house for food and drink.

What happens inside?

Once inside, Mari would run around neighing and snapping her jaws. She would create havoc and frighten children, whilst the person under the sheet pretended to restrain her.

The tradition declined in the early to mid-twentieth century, so if you’re from Wales and you’re not sure what the Mari Lwyd is, you wouldn’t be alone. The decline was in part caused by opposition from local Christian clergy and change in social conditions.

Why is the Mari Lwyd popular today?

It has seen a resurgence in later years, with more festivals cropping up over the winter period to keep the Mari Lwyd tradition alive.

The origins in Wales seem originate from Glamorgan. Eventually, it began to stretch into Monmouthshire valleys. Carmarthenshire also has old examples of the tradition. Now, you can find the tradition hosted in different parts of Wales, including south. The Welsh museum in Cardiff, St Fagans, has been known to revive the Mari tradition.

In the border town of England and Wales, Chepstow, the Mari Lwyd tradition is a regular occurrence in the winter season, particularly in January.

The Mari Lwyd tradition is one that is quite an interesting custom for Wales. I’m definitely going to try and go to an event where I can see the Mari in her natural element. Have you ever come across this tradition? Let me know!

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