Nos Calan Gaeaf - Northern Hemisphere


Nos galan gaeaf! Some may say what is this plainly speaking, it's the winter eve massacre, which in itself sounds a bit gruesome but is it?

Calan Gaeaf (Hollantide)

After the Harvest Moon that allowing the harvest to continue up until the last corn can be cut, which produces the caseg fedi? Rural celebrations commenced once the crops were in. Yet it was also time to cull the livestock. The prime animal stock became selected and would remain to be wintered over to the forthcoming spring. The remaining stock were slaughtered, cattle and pigs, to supply the meat over the coming winter months.

Nos galan gaef the eve of winter was the combined celebration which celebrated the caseg fedi and the stored harvest. Together with the salted meat derived from the livestock cull which was also completed. These agricultural harvests where a communal affair, farmers, women folk, children and kindred all shared their labour, on respective land holdings assisting to complete the seasonal agricultural tasks of food production before winter. After each communal harvest chore was complete, the participants celebrated in many verities of ways.

Once the corn caseg fedi was cut, and shaped into the harvest mare, this would eventually take pride of place, above the fire hearth. The women would have been preparing the harvest feast as the harvest came to its close, on that particular landholding. Getting the Mare into the house was undertaken with a lot of "horse play", as the women prevent its entry by attempting to soak the mare, while the men folk tried to keep it dry as they gained entry to the homestead. The completion of the livestock cull was celebrated in differently. After the last animal was culled and jointed, meat was shared around the community along with a meat broth.

The essence of nos galan gaeaf, lingers in the landscape it has remained since the moment it came into existence. Two connected traditions exists, one to the south where a ladi wen or lady white. The other in the north, nwch ddu gwta or a tail less black sow can be found. The mutation on the 'du' informs us it's a female sow. Balance is then achieved through the reflection of these two colours which in turn produces a four dimensional reflection on the wheel. While a reflection in the mirror will produce the same, also on the chessboard it produces circular movement through each colour. Its reflection becomes intertwined with folklore with the building of bonfires on top of the hillside during the day. Fires lighted with the sounding of the horn, as participants arrived on top of a hill during the evening. The firelight illuminates the darkness, accompanied with dancing and singing while food that is brought became roasted within the flames. Stones would be cast into the fire, later if lucky, the same one would be found the following day. As the fire burns down, the darkness returns back on itself, as participants would run to their hearth escaping the nwch ddu gwta.

From the 17th to 18th centuries such practices slowly begin to fade. The break up of the agricultural communities primarily due to land enclosure, as people removed from the land into the urban centres, to find work in the newly formed mills or in the various mines. Demographical movement combined with the introduction of new agricultural practices, and later farming mechanisation all lead to the demise of these agricultural community traditions. Yet the memory lives on within the urban towns as new traditions became connected to those remembered in the past, which also fades from one generation to the next. These shared agricultural communities labour have a long history, which probably brackens far into the past, reaching back to probably the early beginnings of agricultural practices.

Indeed these festivities took on another dimension during the 7th century, when the Festival of All Saints was directly followed by the later introduction of All Souls Days. This also incorporated connections with purgatory which theology introduced in the 13th century. Overall Nos galan Gaeaf became to be replaced over time into the church festival calendar. Yet such agricultural practices still survived into the 18th century. Now there is a much modified and adapted form, still available at the beginning of the 21st century.


Hwch Ddu a Ladi Wen heb ddim pen

Hwch Ddu Gwata a gipio'r ola'

Hwch Ddu Gwata nos G'langae

Llandron yn dwad tan weu sana


A tail-less black Sow and a White Lady without a head

May the tail-less black sow snatch the hind most

A tail-less black Sow on winters Eve

Thieves coming along knitting stocking

Trans T.Gwynn Jones 1930

(C) Astrocelt 2003

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