Cylch Blodeuwedd

Druidic Grove in North-West Wales

Amser Gwylad

by Oak King - September 18th, 2013.
Filed under: Article Archive.

 

 

For many centuries, and in fact until comparatively recently, people in rural Wales followed the natural cycle of nature and adapted their lives accordingly. That meant that in the winter months their lives were in the main bound to the low lying hendre and when spring arrived they migrated to the upland hafod in order to tend their livestock and crops. This transition from one half of the year to the other was often marked by public festivities as well the more intimate, symbolic rites within the houses.

 

The change of the summer routine to that of winter generally happened during the latter half of September when in many places local fairs were held. In Breconshire, for example, FfairCapel Coch was held on the 25th September and traditionally people, having returned home from the fair, used the occasion to light the first candle and eat supper by its light. From then onwards, as elsewhere in rural Wales, the hearth became the focus of social life and the scene of numerous domestic chores and crafts, helping the family to make ends meet. This was amser gwylad, roughly translated ‘time to keep a vigil’, in Eifionydd also referred to as cadw dechreunos – ‘time to keep (i.e. spend) the evening’. Significantly, being close to the autumn equinox, knitting whilst seated around the hearth could now begin once the day’s work was completed. The noson weu (knitting night) was an important economic and cultural institution in moorland communities when neighbours took it in turns to assemble informally in each other’s houses, usually on moonlit nights. Whilst the knitting by the women would often turn into a competition as to who could knit a fathom of yarn quickest, the menfolk would join them making spoons, ladles, baskets, brooms, candles, ropes and other household items.

 

In Caernarfonshire the pilnos (peeling night), when neighbours assembled to card wool and dress hemp and no doubt also peeled rushes in preparation to make rush lights, was an important factor in keeping alive the oral tradition of story telling. Likewise, the asking of riddles was a common diversion at these fireside gatherings on long winter nights and some of the tradition bearers appear to have gained some renown. In the Dolwyddelan district a certain ‘Robin Bryn-Moel’ and ‘Ioan Glan Lledr’ in the 19th century were given a gentleman’s welcome at the houses where they entertained the gatherings with scores of humourous old tales in unimitable stile, ‘as natural as running water’. Here then we can see how these evening gatherings gave rise to a noson llawen (mery night) with informal competitions in composing and singing of impromptu verses in which all those present were expected to participate.

 

The end of amser gwylad came in March and again was marked by countless fairs. One of them, Nos Ffair Caron, was held on 16 March in Tregaron. That evening the maid would symbolically hand back a candle to her mistress as to say that from now on the family would retire to bed before dark. It is said that in many households this was the same candle that was handed out the previous September. On old St David’s Day (12 March) in the Gwaun valley of North Pembrokeshire the wax candle on the table was changed for a wooden one as a sign that it was no longer necessary to eat supper by candlelight. By the way, farm labourers would from then onwards be entitled to three meals a day as opposed to the just two during amser gwylad.

 

When industrialisation came it meant, at least initially, by no means the end of old folk customs. It rather refreshed them and new ones would come into being. For instance, with the end of amser gwylad, in the wool factories of rural Wales working by candlelight was suspended for the summer what the young people of Tal-y-bont, Cardiganshire, inspired to assemble in the middle of the village to form a procession, singing:

 

 

Ffarwel i’r hen ganhwyllau, ffarwel i wylad nos,

 

Ffarwel i fyned adra rhwng naw a deg y nos – hwre, hwre, hwre!

 

 

Ffarwel i’r hen ganhwyllau, fe ddaeth y Jiwbili,

 

A pheidiwch รข rhyfeddu mai canu’r ydydm ni โ€“ hwe, hwre, hwre!

 

 

(Farewell to the old candles, farewell to keeping the evening,

 

Farewell to going home between nine and ten at night – hurray, hurray, hurray!

 

 

Farewell to the old candles, the Jubilee has come,

 

And don’t be surprised that we are singing โ€“ hurray, hurray, hurray! )

 

 

It must be said that only with the introduction of electric light this marked change in people’s lives got lost. Before then the contrast between winter and summer would have left a much deeper impression on human experience. The coming of long summer evenings, when hearth traditions receded into the background, held out the promise of life in the open, even though this meant more likely toil than leisure back then.

 

 

Holger Burkhardt

 

 

Source:

 

The Customs and Traditions of Wales โ€“ Trevor M. Owen, University of Wales Press 2006

 

 

Leave a Reply

This blog is kept spam free by WP-SpamFree.