Halloween has taken on almost as much prominence as Christmas since the American-style holiday made its way across the Atlantic to our shores. Homes are decked out in spooky decorations, kids go door-to-door trick-or-treating and there are seasonal events happening everywhere, everything from Halloween discos to pumpkin picking to ghost hunts.
But do you know the Welsh roots of this autumnal festival? While modern-day Halloween is a recent innovation, Nos Galan Gaeaf, as it's called in Wales, has its roots in centuries of tradition. Read on to learn more about how Halloween is celebrated in Wales.
Calan Gaeaf (1st November) is traditionally celebrated as the first day of winter. It's an ancient celebration with close parallels to the Celtic festival of Samhain. With summer at an end, the harvest brought safely in, and shorter days and longer nights taking hold, Calan Gaeaf was a rousing celebration of all that had gone before. It was also a respectful nod towards what was to come - the death of nature and a hard winter, but with the promise of spring and rebirth.
Naturally, the night before Calan Gaeaf took on special significance too. In Wales, it is called Nos Galan Gaeaf. It is a night people believe the spirits walk; a night when the veil between the living and the dead thins. If you've seen the Disney movie Coco you'll draw parallels between this and Mexico's Day of the Dead - a day Mexicans believe the spirits of family return and spend the night with the living.
Not only was Calan Gaeaf the beginning of winter, it was an opportunity to reunite with loved ones long departed - a double celebration for the early Welsh ahead of a cold, cruel winter.
Perhaps taking advantage of this - or maybe even to suppress it - Church leaders proclaimed November the 1st to be the feast day All Saints Day in the year 609AD. Why did it do this? Perhaps it was in the hope that parishioners would pray for the souls of their dearly departed rather than seek to carouse with them!
Of course, there were several rituals associated with the festival, some which have faded into history and some which still happen to this day!
Stwmp naw rhyw
The end of October was also the end of harvest time. If the weather had been kind and the crops bountiful, the stores would be full for the hard months ahead. Giving thanks for the harvest, people would eat a special meal on Nos Cala Gaeaf, called stwmp naw rhyw. Containing selection or vegetables, this hearty dish would be cooked in a large cauldron over a roaring fire.
The dish contained nine key ingredients including carrots, parsnips, potatoes, turnips, leeks, peas, milk and butter - but could be made with any crop which had been abundant in the harvest.
Consuming this meal was meant to keep evil spirits at bay and sometimes a wedding ring was concealed in the mixture, to be found by a lucky young person who, it is said, would marry soon!
Other harvest games played on Nos Galan Gaeaf included twco fala or bobbing for apples, and hiding the harvest mare - a little horse made from stalks of corn.
Coelcerth (bonfires) were as popular in years gone by as they are now. They were lit on village greens, in town squares and on hilltops to frighten away evil spirits and allow revellers to recognise the friendly faces of their family spirits. Bonfires were also used to tell fortunes. One popular pastime on Nos Galan Gaeaf was to scratch your name onto a stone and throw it into the flames. The next day, revellers searched among the ashes for their stone. If it was found burned clean, the owner would receive good luck. If a stone was lost, it was believed the owner would die within the year.
Spirits of Nos Galan Gaeaf
Being a supernatural festival, Nos Galan Gaeaf also permitted less welcome spirits to enter the world.
Y Ladi Wen (the White Lady) was said to guard crossroads and graveyards against other, more sinister ghouls. When she wasn't on duty she was an effective threat for naughty children! In North Wales, Hwch Ddu, the Black Sow, was one of Calan Gaeaf's more frightening apparitions. At the end of the festival, as the bonfire died down, a shout went up:
Adref, adref, am y cyntaf! Home, home at once!
Hwch ddu gwta a gipio'r ola! The tailless black sow is sure to roam!
Everyone would run home in fear of being eaten by this fearsome beast - quite often a reveller dressed in a pigskin - it was a good way to end the party and get the kids to bed!
The first trick-or-treaters?
In some parts of Wales, gender swapping was popular on Nos Galan Gaeaf - a night when the normal rules did not apply. Young men would dress up in girls clothing and young women dressed as men.
They would go from house to house signing and chanting in the hope of being rewarded with food and drink. The revellers were called gwrachod (witches) but they were seen as bringers of good fortune, the rowdy noise they made flushing evil spirits from households.
Halloween happenings near The Royal Victoria Hotel
Halloween Hunt - Llanberis Lake Railway, Llanberis - 27th October - 2nd November
For this family-friendly event, you'll ride the Ghost Train to the Witches Wood and hunt down those mischievous spirits who've been up to no good again!
Like all Llanberis Lake Railway events, this is always popular so make sure you book in advance.
Halloween Ghost Hunt - Beaumaris Gaol, Anglesey - 28th October
Join a team of professional ghost hunters for a truly unique paranormal experience. Participate in a range of supernatural experiments or test your mettle with a lone vigil in a prison cell - are you brave enough?
Don't miss the opportunity to investigate a remarkable building after dark in spooky season! Book here.
Ffear Fforest - Zip World Forest, Betws-y-Coed - 17th October - 1st November
Can you hear the screaming in the woods? Mr Wallace's Carnival shut down over 50 years ago after all his guests mysteriously disappeared. Legend says the each Halloween Mr Wallaces returns to the forest, seeking a fresh batch of victims for his carnival of horror!
Book is essential for this thrilling night out! Find out more here.
Pumpkin Picking and maize Maze - Hooton's Homegrown, Anglesey - throughout October
Choose your own carving pumpkin (there's lots of other fruit and veg to pick too) straight from the field. Afterwards challenge yourself to escape the Maize Maze... who knows what lurks around the next corner!
Check out Hooton's Facebook page for the latest updates.
Halloween stays at the Royal Victoria Hotel
No tricks, we promise! The Royal Victoria Hotel is a great base to explore North Wales during spooky season. Our region is steeped in myth and legend and, whilst we can't promise you'll see a ghost, you'll definitely soak up the magical atmosphere the suffuses this special time of year. Book your stay today.