Saturday 22 October 2016

Welsh Halloween Traditions

Stop the presses! She's talking about Wales again!

Look, I know, I talk about Wales a lot but that's because

a) I'm Welsh,
b) this is one of the most beautiful and magical places on the planet,
c) you guys seem to know very little about my lovely country/principality, and

So, humour me a little more, and let me tell you about Welsh Halloween traditions. Most of which, unfortunately, are now passed over in favour of trick or treating and parties.

I never went trick or treating, but that's because my parents are socialist hippies who viewed it as a disrespectful form of begging.

And I'm vegetarian and most of the sweets were made with gelatine.

(I did go trick or treating with two of my mates as a teenager - I told my parents we were just having a party at one girl's house. I'm such a rebel, lol.)


My mother tells me when she was young, they would carve swedes for Halloween. Yes, swedes. Not pumpkins.

Pumpkins actually aren't native to the UK, and in the 60s and 70s, it was easier to get hold of swedes instead (though definitely more difficult to carve!)

Also, Jack o'Lantern is an old British (yes, that includes non-Welsh Britain,) word for a Will o'th' Wisp - a dancing light sprite/fairy/spirit thing that tempted travellers into dangerous places like swamps and hidden pools.

Nos Galan Gaeaf

The Welsh version of Halloween is Nos Galan Gaeaf (not to be confused with Nos Galan - New Year's Eve.)

Nos Galan Gaeaf is the night before the first day of winter. It was thought to be Ysbrydnos - a night when spirits are abroad and able to gather at places where the worlds are close together like graveyards, stiles, crossroads, bridges, etc.


Halloween has always been the perfect time for divination here, because the other world is close. It's also one of our most important Halloween traditions.

One form of divination involved hanging clothing/underwear on a washing line at midnight.

Some stories tell of young women hanging their knickers on the line; the spectre of the man she was to marry would appear and touch them (I know, this story sounds considerably dodgy.)

Some stories say that the future was revealed by whatever ghostly image appeared by a person's clothing - a crib, for example, meaning the person would have a child soon.

The spookier stories tell of coffins appearing above a person's clothing, and death soon after.

Then there's the rocks, placed in a fire, with the names of the people in the household written on them.

If the rocks were gone in the morning, that person would die within the year. This was mainly a North Welsh tradition, I think, so I don't know much about it.

In honesty, there seem to be as many divination rituals here as there are families.

Everyone seemed to have a different method of telling the future, though even within the last 50 years it's gotten less and less.

Apple-bobbing was also a divination method; that's how it started. The first girl to actually bring up an apple was the next to be wed.

And of course, they would then peel the apple, in as long a strip as possible. You then drop the peel, and whatever letter it seems to make will be the initial of the person you are to marry (this one is still relatively popular.)

Mari Lwyd

Still occasionally carried out, mari lwyd ('the grey Mary') is a traditional costume and/or effigy using a horse's skull, garlands, and a sheet. 

It's now usually used around Christmas and New Year, but originally was used at Halloween too. It chases people (in modern times, the people have agreed to this!) around their homes in exchange for money and/or food.

No-one actually knows why.

Goblin/ghost funerals

This isn't a phenomena specific to Halloween, but I think it's probably worth mentioning here, as the worlds being closer together ups the chances of it occurring.

There are numerous stories here of processions of the dead - sometimes this is the people who will die within the year, all marching through country lanes, sometimes it is the portent of a funeral to come - complete with the mourners who will be there.

Sometimes it's a procession of Y Tylwyth Teg - the Fair Folk, (the Grey Folk, the Ladies and Gentlemen, the Old Ones, etc.) carrying out their own funerals.

(Always speak respectfully of the Grey Folk, and never thank them - they don't like it. Also an alcoholic beverage, or some sugar, or some dairy produce, will go a long way. And potentially make the local cats very happy.)

Look, we have a lot of folklore - and I read a ridiculously large amount of local folklore books, ok? ;)


  1. Wow Halloween in Wales seems really cool! I always went trick or treating as a kid but to be honest it was very stressful for me because I was very shy and having to ask a stranger for candy was pretty weird for me lol!

    1. Like I said, unfortunately this stuff isn't as popular as it was even 50 years ago. It's mainly trick or treating and costume parties now.

      I've done the apple thing though (but I can't remember the letter, in honesty!) - I don't think you'll find a Welsh person (espec. girls!) who hasn't tried some sort of divination in their lives... except maybe the uber-religious ones. I've also done the fairly simple one of casting stones - three stones (or pencil erasers, lol,) thrown when a question is asked. Triangle is yes. Straight line is no. I have no idea whether that's specific to Wales, or just something we did as teenagers! ;)

      And my parents would've been happy with you as a daughter. I was never allowed to trick or treat. Ever. We always give out sweets though, but I think that's to avoid people egging our car. ;)

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  3. That was super interesting, Cee. I didn't really know that much about Wales and Halloween. Actually, I know very little about Wales as a whole. It sounds lovely and charming to live there. Here in the US it's mostly parties and trick or treating. It's kind of a nice community holiday; you get to meet so many awesome cute families and friends. It's one of my favorite holidays, really.

    1. Awesome - there's nothing wrong with trick or treating! :) I just wish it wasn't eroding our own traditions quite so much...

      Oh well, I'll have to just do more divination on behalf of the people who don't ;)

  4. THIS IS REALLY INTERESTINGLY AWESOME. I know nothing about Wales..#shame And so I'm totally gobbling up posts like this! I think the underwear tradition is....definitely sketchy. Ahem. But I've heard of the apple-peel-tossing-it-over-your-shoulder-to-make-a-letter thing in a book I've read!! It was an American book though, so I guess that tradition is all over the world?
    I don't even know anything about Halloween in general except what I've picked up from watching Supernatural.😂 Australia does Halloween but it's SO TACKY because of all the pumpkins and leaves and It's spring, dudes. Stop trying to make Halloween happen.😭

    1. Yes, the underwear thing is... they were rural teenagers, they had to make their (ahem) somehow!

      The apple thing started here/in Britain in general, and we exported it; because dude, that's what we seem to do - transport our kookiness to the planet (there's clearly too much kookiness to confine it to our little isles.)

      Ha, you are welcome to borrow some of our divination instead of the tackiness; or maybe dress up like a skeleton horse and win at costumes ;)


    I was never actually allowed to celebrate Halloween. My mum saw trick or treating as a way for my brother and I to end up in the back of a strangers van. We weren't allowed to dress up, or even answer the door on Halloween either. It sounds strict, but honestly my brother and I were never that bothered. By the time I reached high school and my friends were into Halloween, I was already a diabetic so I couldn't celebrate in the candy eating way either.

    I'd just love to see someone try and carve a swede. That just seems infinitely hilarious to me. I don't think we can even get swedes here...I'd never heard of them before I moved to Cornwall.

    1. Ha, I had to tell my mother I was going to a party with alcohol, and then snuck out with my friends to go trick or treating. Alcohol? Yes small teenager, go for it. Asking for sweets? HELL NO CHILD! Ha, I love my parents.

      We do give out sweets - but that's to avoid our house/car getting egged. Because the kids round here don't need much of an excuse.


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