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Page last updated at 14:40 GMT, Thursday, 14 January 2010
Pembrokeshire tradition of 'Hen Galan' goes on in Gwaun
Image of Llyr, Gethin, Cerys, Rhydain and Owain in winter gear standing beside a deep drift of snow - image Enfys Howells
Gwaun Valley children brave deep snow to sing for 'Hen Galan'

A handful of Pembrokeshire families braved huge snowdrifts to mark the traditional celebration of New Year on 13 January.

Using tractors to get out of their rural homes some Gwaun Valley villagers were able to celebrate 'Hen Galan'.

Local tradition means they follow the Julian calendar, rather than the more commonplace Gregorian version.

But with drifting snow, more than three metres deep in places, the celebration looked in danger of being called off.

Local head teacher Enfys Howells of Pontfaen, said: "Five children from the Gwaun Valley ventured through 12 feet of snow drifts in some places to keep the tradition of 'Hen Galan' going - that's what I call commitment to tradition!

"Their 91-year-old great grandmother, who was brought up in the valley, does not remember snow like this on 'Hen Galan' - ever.

The postman hasn't been up here this year!
Enfys Howells

"A few neighbours even ventured in tractors over to the local hotel Gellifawr to carry on with the celebrations over a bowl of warm cawl prepared by the proprietors and a few drinks.

"You sank down to your middle in the snow - and when we woke up today, we asked ourselves, 'did we really did do it'?

"There were only a few families because of the snow, but it was lovely - and earlier in the day some of the children were singing from the drifts."

And it's not just the 'New Year' that has been affected.

Mrs Howells said: "The postman hasn't been up here this year. When it was my son's birthday, I had to borrow eggs from my mother, and icing from my sister-in-law, but he did have a birthday cake."

Archive footage of New Year celebrations in the Gwaun Valley

Bonni Davies, who is a grandmother of nine, has taken part in the festivities for the last 40 years. She said, "I remember coming to this valley as a child. It was a big occasion.

"I think it is important to keep these traditions going. The children do calennig and are invited in for something to eat

"In the evening, we all get together and bring a pudding or something sweet and have a sing-song.

"We have the old folk songs printed off for the people who don't know them and sing a few hymns, even some Tom Jones and the old Delilah!"

The Julian calendar was abolished controversially in 1752 and replaced with the Gregorian calendar, which was approved by Pope Gregory XIII nearly 200 years earlier.

But the people of the Gwaun Valley resisted the change - as did a remote island off the coast of Scotland.

Since then the celebration - called Hen Galan - has been carried from generation to generation.

Emma Lile is a curator at St Fagans National History Museum. She said: "Hen Galan was once regarded as more important than Christmas for Gwaun Valley people, with special food and drink prepared well in advance.

"When 13 January arrived, men would enjoy a chance to go shooting, while at farmhouses in the area, the women busily organized the food, such as a lunch of cooked goose and plum pudding.

Archive film of traditional Canu Pwnc sung verse in Pembrokeshire

"Mealtimes were often followed by a sing-song and some games.

"For the children, Hen Galan was often spent travelling from house-to-house singing traditional rhymes to 'let in' the coming year and to wish the occupants health and happiness.

"Deriving from calan, meaning the first day of the month, the custom known as calennig (New Year's gift) refers to the practice of singing from door-to-door on New Year's Day.

"Traditionally, skewered fruit, such as an apple decorated with a sprig of an evergreen, was carried by the children, which was a symbol of prosperity for the year ahead.

"The children usually received some money or sweets for their efforts and were often invited inside the houses for refreshments."

Crashes and disruption after snow
13 Jan 10 |  Wales


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