Welsh Customs & Eastertide Folklore.

Wales is known for it's 'weird and wonderful' customs and festivals. 
Most well known being The Mari Llwyd - Plygain - Hel Caennig - The Gorsedd of the Bards - Gŵyl Mabsant. 

This morning it dawned on my that I do not know of any Welsh customs relating to Easter. I have written this blogpost to share what I have discovered about the 'Welsh Easter' of the past.

If you drank Butter-milk on Shrove Tuesday, you would never have freckles or sunburn.

If you buried a piece of Pancake, you would have luck during the next twelve months.

It was a custom in parts of North Wales to 'clap for eggs' on the Monday before easter. It was known as 'Clepio wyanu'r pasg' or 'clepian wyanu'. Children of Anglesey would chant 'Clap, Clap, gofyn wy I hogia bach ar y plwy' when begging for eggs. In Amlwch, it is noted that children might collect as much as forty eggs per child.

Good Friday
  • On Good Friday, it is unlucky to meddle with the earth, to plough or sow or to do any type of gardening.
  • If you use a sewing needle on Good Friday, you or your premises will be destroyed by lightning. 
  • Bread made on Good Friday will quickly turn sour. 

Hot Cross Buns
In Tenby, after the Good Friday service, the congregation would eat Hot Cross Buns. These were thought to have a curative power and a number of them were tied in a bag and hung up in the kitchen until the following good Friday. It was believed that a portion of the bun when eaten, could cure any disease. They were also given to domestic animals to cure diseases.

"I recall the inhabitants of Llangollen, Denbighshire, ascending Dinas Bran on Easter Day to greet the rising of the sun with three somersaults." 
An account of Easter Sunrise from Rev. John Williams of Glanmor.

 It was considered an evil omen if Easter Sunday fell on March 25th or Lady Day. 

Children born or baptised on Easter Sunday were considered very fortunate. 

"Ye young fellows yt can get up soon in ye morning to come & pull y'ir comrades out of bed, put them y'stocks & holding up one of y'ir legs, pour a pail of water down it."  
An account of 'Stocsio' from Loveday's Diary of a Tour in 1732.

In parts of Glamorgan and Conwy villagers undertook the hellish custom of 'Stocsio'.

The last man in the parish to be married before Easter Sunday was on that day straight after morning service, set out for the highest point in the district. Accompanied by a number of men, the newly married man climbed upon a hillock and addressed the crowd of people.

He then issued the following commands:
  • All men under sixty had to be up and dressed before six
  • All men under forty were to be presentable before four. 
  • All those under twenty could not go to bed but had to be prepared and ready and in their places on. Easter Monday. 
If these commands were disobeyed, the offenders were put in the stocks for a number of hours. 

As Easter Monday dawned the stocks were prominently positioned on the main street or market place. It was common for the house of a 'lazy, bed loving bachelor' to be attacked first. The villagers got into the house by getting through a window or forcing the door. The bachelor was then forced from his bed, carried out into a cart and taken to the stocks. The newly married man acted as the Master of the Revels. He lectured the bachelor on the sins of idleness and the story of the sluggard. He then took the unfortunate victims hand and belaboured it several times with a gorse branch and asking a number of questions as he did so.

These questions included: 
  • Whether he likes better, the mistress or the maid?
  • Ale or Butter Milk?
  • Whether he would go through the gate of a field if open or over the stile? 

If the victim tried not to answer or told deliberate lies he suffered serve reprimands and more mishandling with the gorse branch. The hapless prisoner was then released, somewhat worse for wear, scratched and cut as he was, to the sound of much cheering. He then joined his former tormentors in the hunt for fresh victims. 

Any girl found to have spied on these proceedings had her shoe removed from her foot and kept from her until she paid the forfeit of one or two kisses. Elderly ladies and married women caught spying had to pay sixpence or less. 

Luckily, this custom died out in North Wales by 1825 and in Glamorgan 1840. 

'In the Stocks Again' by P. B. Abery - 1909.

In many parts of both South and North Wales, it was a custom for the lower classes to partake in the custom of 'lifting'. The custom was to be over by noon each day and consisted of lifting a person off the ground on a chair three times. On Easter Monday, the men lifting the women and on Tuesday the women lifted the men.

The poet Ceiriog tells of how in one house an old lady was persuaded to sit in the chair. She was so heavy that the chair could not be lifted!

Any respectable woman would not be seen outdoors before noon. They were kept withing their houses with the doors looked.

"Nothing short of locks or bolts could keep out the lifters;and great was their relief when the afternoon came that day." 

Other beliefs  and customs relating to Eastertide.

Young men and girl would walk to the nearest important well on Easter Monday, fill jugs with water and strewn flowers in the surrounding stones and bushes. For the people of Bridgend, the nearest Well of significant importance is 'Sandford's Well'. The Well is situated near Newton Parish Church, Porthcawl. It was believed that any water taken from this well would stay pure for the next twelve months.

In the Vale of Glamorgan whole villages trimmed and adorned the graves of their dead relatives on Easter eve. The sides of the graves were raised up with fresh turf and fresh earth was placed on the surface; the end stones were whitewashed and women planted rosemary and rue whilst girls brought baskets of crocuses, daffodils and primroses which they placed in 'somewhat fantastic figures upon all graves'. 

Flowers at Wenvoe Parish Church, Vale of Glamorgan. 

(Sources: LLGC - National Museum of Wales - Folklore and Folk Stories of Wales - Alan Roderick - Alun Morgan) 

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