When: 18th January 2014, from 2pm
Where: Chepstow, Monmouthshire
What is it?
The Chepstow Wassail and Mari Lwyd is a very popular family friendly annual event of old traditions, strange customs, capers, and weird creatures.
The wassail is an ancient tradition of blessing apple trees and asking for a good harvest in the coming year with lots of singing, dancing and cider drinking. The annual Chepstow Wassail is directed by the The Wassail Butler. The Wassail Butler carries a special wassail bowl containing the important ingredient of cider. This is passed around so that people can take a sip from the bowl, then hold it aloft and shout ‘Wassail’. The gathered people then form a circle around the tree where they sing and hang offerings of toast on the tree’s branches. Finally, the Butler pours some cider onto the roots of the tree and gives a speech.
This year’s wassail will take place at 3pm in the Dell behind the Three Tuns pub. At 5pm there will be another wassail in Castle Inn pub garden with music, dancing and merriment.
The Mari Lwyd is an ancient custom in South Wales which involves taking a horse skull dressed in a shroud from house to house and pub to pub. It is a kind of First Footing tradition which is meant to bring good fortune. There are many types of these First Footing ceremonies that take place in the UK at New Year.
The Mari Lwyd (or grey mare) is carried by the Mari group who attempt to gain entry to houses and pubs by singing and riddle telling. There are usually around six Mari Lwyd groups which come from all over Wales, as well as a traditional Nottingham horse known as Poor Awd Oss and a traditional Gloucestershire bull’s head known as The Broad. As if that isn’t enough The Green Man sometimes turns up from the deepest part of the Forest of Dean. So you can imagine with all these strangely dressed creatures in the town, that Chepstow is quite an interesting place to be for this annual event.
In the evening a Meeting on the Border known as The Oldest New Tradition in Wales takes place where the English Wassailers and the Welsh Mari Lwyders come together at the border to exchange flags and drink from the Wassail Bowl. They then wish each other a happy New Year with some dancing and celebration thrown in for good measure.
The full programme for this year’s event is as follows:
2pm – There will be morris dancing and capers outside the Three Tuns pub.
3pm – Next is the Wassail of the Chepstow Castle Dell, where there will be singing and dancing around the apple trees in the Dell behind the Three Tuns pub.
4pm – The Mari Lwyd or the Welsh Grey Mare First Footing Ceremony takes place at the Three Tuns. There will be several authentic horses heads dressed in the traditional way. Expect plenty of Welsh/English banter as well as lots of singing and fun.
5pm – The Wassail in the Castle Pub Garden takes place with music, dancing and much merriment.
6pm – People gather at the Riverbank for more morris dancing. There will be an outside bar and hot food available. Expect more music and noise in preparation for the famous Meeting on the Bridge.
6.30pm – The meeting of the English and the Welsh at the border, which is in the middle of the Old Iron Bridge takes place.
7.15pm – The Mari Lwyd is performed at the Chepstow Museum. It will all be floodlit so it promises a great viewing opportunity and there are rumours of hot mulled cider being available.
8pm – There will be an open mic session at the Castle Inn pub until late for people to round the day off with.