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The Mari Lwyd (or Grey Mare in English) is a Welsh new year celebration (see Calennig). Perhaps deriving from an ancient rite for the Celtic goddess Rhiannon, the Mari Lwyd is associated with south-east Walesmarker, in particular Glamorganmarker and Gwent, but was almost forgotten during the mid-20th century. Nowadays, some folk associations in Llantrisantmarker, Llangynwydmarker, Cowbridgemarker and elsewhere are trying to revive it.

The Mari Lwyd consists of a mare's skull fixed to the end of a wooden pole; white sheets are fastened to the base of the skull, concealing the pole and the person carrying the Mari. The eye sockets are often filled with green bottle-ends, or other coloured material. The lower jaw is sometimes spring-loaded, so that the Mari's 'operator' can snap it at passers-by. Coloured ribbons are usually fixed to the skull and to the reins (if any).

During the ceremony, the skull (sometimes made of wood) is carried through the streets of the village by a party that stands in front of every house to sing traditional songs. The singing sometimes consists of a rhyme contest (pwnco) between the Mari party and the inhabitants of the house, that challenge each other with verses.

The Mari Lwyd has become associated with a resurgent awareness of Welsh folk culture. For example, the town council of Aberystwythmarker (in Ceredigion, well outside the Mari Lwyd's traditional area) organised "The World's Largest Mari Lwyd" for the Millennium celebrations in 2000.

An interesting mixture of the Mari Lwyd and Wassail customs occurs in the border town of Chepstow, South Wales, every January. A band of English Wassailers meet with the local Welsh Border Morris Side, The Widders, on the bridge in Chepstow. They greet each other and exchange flags in a gesture of friendship and unity and celebrate the occasion with dance and song before performing the 'pwnco' at the doors of Chepstow Castle.


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