Hen Galan: Welsh New Year
On 13th January each year you'll find a community in North Pembrokeshire celebrating Hen Galan, or Welsh New Year's Day. The people of Cwm Gwaun aren’t late to the party though, for them it's the correct date to celebrate the arrival of a New Year, find out why.
What is Hen Galan?
The tale behind Hen Galan goes back to 1752 when the Gregorian calendar was introduced in the UK. Before that people used the Julian calendar, and while most of us use the Gregorian calendar today, Cwm Gwaun decided to stick to the old one. On the Julian calendar, New Year arrives on the 13th of January, which is why you'll find them celebrating 'Old New Year' in their local community on that date.
Hen Galan today: As big as Christmas!
It’s not just an ancient custom, the community of Cwm Gwaun have kept the traditions alive through the years and it's still celebrated in the area today. It's even viewed as a celebration to rival Christmas, and brings everyone together. In 2017 Liliwen McAllister, who grew up in the area, told WalesOnline all about her experience as a child and and how they celebrated then and now in the area.
She said: “When I was young, me and my friends would walk around to the different farms to sing songs and receive gifts, and if you arrived at a home that was sitting down to eat, you’d have to join them at their table and enjoy the meal as well.
“These days parents drive their children to the different farms to sing.
“Old New Year’s Day used to be as special as Christmas Day, with turkey and trifle, mince pies, plum pudding - it was a feast.”
How it's celebrated: Singing, eating and down the pub
There are unique traditions attached to the celebrations that have been kept alive over the years. In the morning, children go from door to door singing and are given ‘Calennig’ which is usually sweets or money for their trouble. The decorated head of a grey mare accompanies the singers to bring good fortune to the houses they visit, in the tradition of Mari Lwyd which was first recorded in 1800.
Like any good Welsh celebration – the pub is right at the heart of it and in Cwm Gwaun that’s The Dyffryn Arms. Also known as Bessie’s, named after the legendary landlady, Bessie Davies, the pub has been in her family since 1840 where each year local primary school children gather to sing and celebrate Hen Galan. It's also where the community gathers for a huge feast. The celebration is seen as so important that if Hen Galan falls on a week day, they’re even allowed a day off school.
At Bluestone, our Welsh pub – the Knights Tafarn – is also where we hold our Hen Galan celebrations. Never ones to pass up the chance of a party, if you’ve been lucky enough to stay over the Old New Year, you would’ve been able to join in our celebrations at the Tafarn where traditional Welsh folk songs are sung and our own Mari Lwyd is paraded.
What is Calennig?
Translated into English, Calennig means “New Year celebration or gift”, but its literal translation is “the first day of the month”. A little like trick-or-treating at Halloween, this tradition takes place on the morning of Old New Year’s Day and sees children visiting their neighbours’ homes in the local area and delivering New Year wishes.
This usually took the form of a song, but in places would also include the splashing of water. The children are then be rewarded with “Calennig” a gift or sweets for their visit. Children sing a mix of traditional Welsh songs, but the most frequently heard is this one celebrating Hen Galan, the English translation is provided below the lyrics.
Blwyddyn Newydd dda i chi
(A happy new year to you)
Ac i bawb sydd yn y tŷ
(And to everyone in the house)
Dyma fy nymuniad i
(This is my wish
Blwyddyn Newydd dda i chi)
A happy new year to you
Where is Cwm Gwaun?
A beautiful community known for its strong local traditions and celebrated heritage, Cwm Gwaun is in the north of Pembrokeshire. Around four miles to the southeast of Fishguard, with celebrations including the parish of Pontfaen and the ancient parish of Llanychaer.
Though small, the community is nestled in a valley of beautiful Pembrokeshire countryside and is filled with treasured heritage sites including 21 structures and buildings listed for their special interest or importance. If you want to visit, it’s around a 30-minute drive from Bluestone, and the route takes you over the magnificent Preselli Hills with views and walks that are well worth a visit.
Select images from the National Library of Wales.
Image of Dyffryn Arms (CreativeCommons/AlanHughes)