New Year's Eve and New Year's Water In Pembrokeshire

By Terry John Candle

In the past, Pembrokeshire people had many ways of celebrating New Year’s Eve and the New Year itself. Tenby’s streets were crowded with processions of people dancing the Old Year out and singing at the tops of their voices. One of the most popular verses was the following:

Get up on New Year’s morning,

The cocks are all a-crowing;

And if you think you’re awake too soon

Why get up and look at the stars and moon,

But get up on New Year’s morning.


Before it got dark there would be groups of children too, knocking at doors and singing:

The roads are very dirty,

My shoes are very thin,

I wish you a Happy New Year

And please to let me in.


Very few of the children were turned away empty handed. If money was not donated, then cake, sweets or oranges were offered and gratefully accepted.

Each child carried decorated orange or apple, known as a ‘rhodd calenig’ The fruit was studded with wheat, oats, barley and a sprig of holly and stood on small tripods of three skewers and were tokens of good luck. They were placed on the mantelpieces of the houses visited and were left there until they withered. There was a competition for the best decorated one and gifts were given to the child who carried it. The giving of decorated oranges as a New Year’s gift was an ancient custom and was recorded as early as the 17th century.

To many people, New Year‘s Eve was even more important than Christmas day. It enabled everyone to cast aside the problems and troubles of the Old Year and to look forward to a fresh start. Most of the customs that took place on this special night were associated with breaking with the past and everyone took great care that nothing from the previous year should shadow and influence the luck of the New Year.

All debts were to be paid off by New Year’s Eve, lest you should be in debt for the next twelve months. Even giving something as innocent as a light for a candle was unlucky and your behaviour at the beginning of the New Year would dictate the fortune that lay ahead of you. Most people, however well they had celebrated New Year‘s Eve, would attempt to rise early on New Year’s Day. To lie in bed meant that you would be lazy and idle for the rest of the year and however attractive that might sound it would affect your prosperity.

Some people were so worried about what the future might hold that they turned to divination to discover what the coming year might hold. Omens such as the gender of the first person you encountered on New Year’s morning were indicators of what lay in store. For a woman to see a woman on New Year’s morning was believed to bring bad luck. Much better for a lady to see a man, especially a good-looking one. The same was true if a man encountered first another man, but a glimpse of a woman was lucky.

In north Pembrokeshire, it was the Christian name which was important. Everyone wished to meet a man named Dafydd, Ifan, Sion or Siencyn or a woman called Sian, Margred, Mair or Sioned. These were the lucky names, but any that began with the letters T, W or S foretold Trouble, Worry and Sorrow.

One way of warding off trouble was to receive and give good wishes and gifts on New Year’s Eve. The richness of the present mattered less than the well-wishing that accompanied it.  

The most famous custom in Tenby, and across south Pembrokeshire, was the ceremony of New Year’s Water. At dawn on New Year’s Day, groups of children would fill a small container with water from the nearest well. They would also gather a sprig of some evergreen plant, such as box, rosemary or myrtle. This would be dipped into the water, which would be sprinkled on the hands and faces of everyone they met. If they were invited into a house, the group would make its way into every room, sprinkling water as they went. Songs would be sung, rhymes repeated and they would be given a few coins, often silver, by the householder.

The verse most often chanted by the children was this:

Here we bring new water from the well so clear,

For to worship God with, this happy New Year,

Sing levy dew, sing levy dew, the water and the wine,

With seven bright gold wires, and bugles that do shine;

Sing reign of fair maid, with gold upon her toe,

Open you the west door, and turn the Old Year go

Sing reign of fair maid, with gold upon her chin,

Open you the east door, and let the New Year in.


It’s thought that the verse is a very ancient one and may even have pagan origins. The ‘fair maid’ may represent the Virgin Mary and the phrase ‘levy dew’ could be an English phonetic rendering of the Welsh ‘llef I Dduw’ or ‘cry to God’.

Categories:History, Pembrokeshire, Celebrations


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