The annual Calan Gaeaf celebration in Wales marks the end of the autumn harvest and the beginning of winter with traditions best described as creepy. But falling in step after Halloween, that feels just right.
Festivities you might see provide an interesting mix of the macabre with a feast that looks forward to the beauty of winter in the Welsh countryside. The festivals include emphasis on ghosts, ghouls, and spirits, which has earned it the nickname ”The Mother of Halloween.”
History of Calan Gaeaf
The origins of Calan Gaeaf go all the way back to ancient Celtic traditions, making it a significant historical and cultural festival. It signifies the end of the harvest season and the onset of winter, a crucial season for those ancient agricultural communities. The
Celts thought the transition from the lighter half of the year to the darker half, along with its shortened days, was when the veil between the living world and the spirit world was at its thinnest. Right or wrong, these beliefs led to a good reason to try to appease the supernatural world.
The night before Calan Gaeaf, known as Nos Galan Gaeaf, held an air of mystery and superstition. The Celts who lived in Wales at that time believed that spirits roamed freely. They swore they saw the ghosts of the dead at midnight.
In different parts of Wales, these ghosts took on various characters. Two of the most commonly spotted spirits were the ‘ladi wen’ (white lady). In the northern reaches of Wales, people saw a tail-less black sow (‘hwch ddu gwta’).
One of the most chilling traditions involved villagers dancing around a bonfire, where each person would mark a stone with their name and place it in the fire. The belief was that if a stone was missing the next morning, the person it belonged to would face misfortune or even death within the year.
This practice reflects the deep-seated superstitions and the connection with the spiritual world that Calan Gaeaf embodies.
How to Celebrate Calan Gaeaf
Celebrating Calan Gaeaf gives you a chance to extend the Halloween fun – and leave up your macabre decorations – just a little bit longer. Here are some ways to honor this Welsh festival:
Host a Calan Gaeaf Feast
Gather together with your friends and family for a traditional feast to welcome winter. Cook and serve up these seasonal Welsh dishes:
- Cawl, A hearty leek and potato soup.
- Welsh rarebit, a spice cheese sauce served over golden brown toast.
- Bara brith, a tea bread. It’s similar to a fruitcake with the ingredients soaked in tea.
Want to add a modern-day twist to the party? Combine today’s favorite pastimes – pumpkin carving and costume-wearing. You’ll touch on both the historical and contemporary aspects of the festival.
In keeping with ancient traditions, light a bonfire as a central part of your celebration. Share stories of Welsh folklore and perhaps even reenact the ritual of marking and placing stones in the fire, though maybe without the ominous predictions!
Explore Welsh Superstitions
Read up on the world of Welsh superstitions and fortune tellers. Activities like apple bobbing or peeling an apple in one try are thought to reveal the initials of your future partner Maybe true, maybe not. But they sure can be fun ways to interact with those Calan Gaeaf customs.
Ghost Story Telling
Embrace the spooky aspect of Calan Gaeaf by sharing ghost stories, especially those rooted in Welsh folklore. The tales of the ‘ladi wen’ and ‘hwch ddu gwta’ can add a local flavor to your storytelling session.
Visit Historical Sites
If you happen to be in Wales, or you can visit there, check out the local historical sites tied to ancient Celtic traditions.
These spots can be a real-life way to connect with the roots of Calan Gaeaf. For instance, you might explore old castles or visit places known for their intriguing Celtic history.
Create a Calan Gaeaf Playlist
Music is a powerful way to set the mood. Create a playlist that includes traditional Welsh music along with modern tunes that fit the theme of celebrating the darker, more mystical side of life.
Crafting and Decorations
Spend some time making crafts that connect with the themes of Calan Gaeaf. Create decorations that embody the festival’s spirit. Consider wreaths made from fallen leaves or lanterns to light the longer nights.
Organize or participate in community events that celebrate Calan Gaeaf. These could include parades, story hours, or community bonfires. Each of these experiences will allow you to teach others about the Calan Gaeaf traditions.
Calan Gaeaf offers a terrific opportunity to learn more about a celebration deeply entwined with Welsh history and folklore. This festival provides a closer look into a world that interconnects the past and present, along with the living and those who have already crossed over.