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Calan Gaeaf is the name of the first day of winter in Wales, observed on 1 November.[1] The night before is Nos Galan Gaeaf[1] or Noson Galan Gaeaf, an Ysbrydnos ("spirit night"[2]) when spirits are abroad. Traditionally, people avoid churchyards, stiles, and crossroads, since spirits are thought to gather there. The term is first recorded in literature as "Kalan Gayaf" in the laws of Hywel Dda.[3]

The same term, Kalan Gwav, is found in the Cornish language, and Kalan Goañv in Breton.[4]



On Nos Calan Gaeaf, women and children would dance around a bonfire and everyone would write their names on, or otherwise mark, rocks and place them in and around said fire. When the fire started to die out,[5] they would all run home, believing if they stayed, Yr Hwch Ddu Gwta (a bad omen that took the form of a tailless black sow with a headless woman) or Y Ladi Wen ("the white lady", a ghostly apparition often said to be headless) would chase them or devour their souls.[6]

One particular rhyme shows how the last child out on Nos Calan Gaeaf was at risk of being eaten by the fearsome beast:[5]

Original English
Adref, adref, am y cyntaf',
Hwch ddu gwta a gipio'r ola'.
Home, home, at once
The tailless black sow shall snatch the last [one].

The following morning, all the stones containing villagers' names would be checked, and finding one's stone burned clean was believed to be good luck. If, however, a stone was missing, the person who wrote their name on the absent stone would be believed to die within one year.[5]

Harvest mare

Calan Gaeaf is a harvest festival and many games would be played involving the harvest. When the last corn stalk was harvested, workers would leave a few stalks uncut and then play a game with the uncut stalks to see who could reap them. Once the final corn stalks were cut, the stalks were twisted into something called a "harvest mare." The winner would stuff the harvest mare inside his clothing and try to sneak it into the house while the women worked on the feast.[7][better source needed] If the reaper successfully got the harvest mare into the house, he was rewarded. If he was unsuccessful, he was mocked.[8]


After the harvest was gathered and the livestock was slaughtered, a large feast would be held that was cooked by all the women in the village.[9][8]

Seeing the future


See also


  1. ^ a b Davies 2008, p. 107.
  2. ^ Jones 1930, p. 161.
  3. ^ Cambrian Register, p. 330.
  4. ^ Rees, Mark (2019). The A-Z of Curious Wales: Strange Stories of Mysteries, Crimes and Eccentrics. History Press. ISBN 978-0-7509-9181-0.
  5. ^ a b c Jones 1930, p. 157.
  6. ^ Jones 1930, pp. 157–159.
  7. ^ a b c d "How we celebrate Halloween in Wales". Royal Victoria Hotel. Retrieved 30 July 2023.
  8. ^ a b c Phillips 2016.
  9. ^ a b ACNMW.