Families in Penarth, South Wales, came together just before the nationwide Welsh lockdown to celebrate ancient Autumn traditions of Halloween, bonfires and All Saints, repeating the celebration they made at Halloween last year, and making a community film of the event.
The short film made by Buzz of the celebration is today on the website of the community Landscapes of Faith project, which is funded by Visit Wales.
The celebration sees families carrying homemade vegetable lanterns gather on the edge if the seaside town of Penarth in South Wales to make a woodland walk through dark lanes. They make a mile-long journey through the woods to the ancient Celtic church of St Peter’s Old Cogan, the area’s oldest building which sits on the edge of the town.
During the twilight walk the children encountered characters from old Welsh stories and legends. They meet the severed head of Bendigeidfran, the friendly giant who features in the old Mabinogion tales. In true Halloween fashion the walkers get to pass Sir Gawain from the Round Table of King Arthur, a gloomy figure in full clanking armour. In the famous medieval story, the young knight Gawain sets out after Halloween to meet a gruesome Green Knight in an unknown valley somewhere in Wales. The families also encounter a mystery man carrying a swan, and this is the night locally that the South Wales tradition of Mari Lwyd, a horse’s head carried on a pole, begins in the town.
Having made the haunting journey through journey through dark lanes the families are greeted at the churchyard of the tiny church of St Peter’s Old Cogan with a community bonfire. The tradition of bonfires at this time of year stretches back into pre-history.
The children then take up a white ribbon that carries the names of hundreds of Welsh saints and bind the ancient church with it. The ribbon is over 650 feet long and the children circle the church four times, binding it tightly with the decorated ribbon.
The celebration marks the beginning of the winter season of winter traditions that have in past years included a Winter Carnival, the rolling of a giant head down the cliffs and the going from door to door seeking song and hospitality with the Mari Lwyd.
This year’s event co-ordinator Richard Parry said: ” Hallowe’en means the ‘the night of All Souls’ and in the dim and distant past this celebration was brought together at this time of year with the festival of All Saints. Wales has got a wonderful and beautiful heritage of celtic and modern saints, and this exciting tradition of bonfires, Halloween and saints remind us that at the heart of being human is a spiritual offer of goodness and light. This is why all these festivals were brought together in the past. On this night we can dress up, enjoy the mysterious stories of the past, and celebrate our fabulous heritage.
“To keep it covid-safe this year just a handful of families have come together early, before lockdown, to make the celebration and continue the tradition, but there were many more people last year. It is hoped that if Covid-19 permits next year the celebration will take place once again on the night of Halloween, 31st October.”
This year’s event took place on the 22 October before the Wales-wide lockdown began, and was a socially distanced event for a small number of families. The film was made by us, and contains footage from this year and last year’s celebrations.
The film was commissioned the Landscapes of Faith project, funded by Visit Wales, which is exploring the hidden stories of all the differing faith traditions in South Wales.
For more information go to https://www.landscapesoffaith.org/
Words: Jasper Haze