AKA, how to haunt your family’s Christmas memories for decades to come.
This Welsh Christmas tradition may fascinate you… or give you bad dreams, we’re not sure which. (And yeah, we’re sorry if you find this creepy — we find it fascinating!)
The origins of Mari Lwyd are hazy: some believe it’s descended from ancient Pagan customs and the religious significance has long been lost, while others trace it to wassailing culture in which people went door-to-door to sing and share a drink from the wassail bowl (this practice has since evolved into caroling). Either way, the first true documented instance of Mari Lwyd is in 1800 — and yes, that’s a horse skull being paraded about.
The Mari Lwyd itself is a horse skull, decorated with ribbons, placed on a pole and draped in a white sheet. In modern years, Christmas ornaments are set as eyes. The Mari Lwyd is brought door-to-door by a group of revelers and a traditional song exchange takes place before the Mari Lwyd and party are invited inside for food and drink (and perhaps to terrorize the children).
The Mari Lwyd may be descended from a wider-practiced hooded animal folk tradition in parts of Great Britain. Either way, it’s a fascinating aspect of Welsh holiday culture!