Discovering Halloween’s Welsh Roots: Noson Galan Gaeaf Traditions and Origins
Halloween has become almost as big as Christmas here in the UK since it came over from America. People decorate their homes with spooky decorations, children go door-to-door trick-or-treating, and there are lots of special events happening, like Halloween parties and pumpkin picking.
But did you know that Halloween has roots in Wales? Called Noson Galan Gaeaf, and it’s been celebrated for a very long time. Calan Gaeaf, on November 1st, marks the start of winter and is kind of like the Celtic festival of Samhain. It’s a time to celebrate the harvest, shorter days and longer nights, to remember the past and look forward to the future.
The night before Calan Gaeaf is called Noson Galan Gaeaf, and it’s believed that spirits come out on this night. It’s very much like Mexico’s Day of the Dead, where people believe that their departed loved ones return to spend time with the living.
Calan Gaeaf was a time to connect with those who have passed away, but in 609 AD, the Church made November 1st All Saints Day to encourage people to pray for the souls of the departed instead of partying with them!
There were lots of traditions associated with the festival, some that are still around today and some that are forgotten.
One tradition was a special meal called ‘stwmp naw rhyw’, made with nine different veggies. Eating this meal was thought to keep bad spirits away, and sometimes a wedding ring was hidden in it, and the person who found it was said to get married soon!
Other harvest games played on Noson Galan Gaeaf included ‘twco fala’ or bobbing for apples, and hiding the harvest mare – a little horse made from stalks of corn.
Bonfires, called ‘coelcerth’ were lit to scare off evil spirits and tell fortunes. People would throw stones with their names into the fire, and if the stone came out unburned, it meant good luck.
Some not-so-friendly spirits were also part of Noson Galan Gaeaf. There was Y Ladi Wen, who protected graveyards, and the Hwch Ddu – Black Sow, who would chase people home at the end of the festival.
In some parts of Wales, people swapped gender roles on Noson Galan Gaeaf. Men dressed as women, and women dressed as men, and they went from house to house singing and hoping for food and drink.
So, Halloween in Wales has deep roots, with a mix of old traditions and some new ones from across the ocean. What’s important is that we celebrate it with diversity by holding onto the old and embracing the new. How will you celebrate it this year?