Mari Lwyd, or “Caroling with Zombie Horses”: A Christmas Story

December 20, 2021

Maybe you’ve heard of Mari Lwyd, maybe not. Either way, if you’re planning a night of caroling, I’d advise you to bring this Welsh zombie horse along. 

Have a zombie horse Christmas.

Here’s how it works. Decorate a horse skull for a day out on the town. Use ribbons and bobbles to make Mari Lwyd look its best. Mount your beautiful creation on a stick and cover it with a white sheet. Your friends dress up as witches, jesters, Punch and Judy characters, and general mischief-makers. 

Now it’s time to go wassailing. You wander around town approaching friends and neighbors’ homes singing loudly about all the reasons they need to let you in and feed you while your partners in crime attempt to play harmless pranks. Your neighbors have sing back with excuses why they simply can’t let you in. Don’t get discouraged! The pwnco (battle of song) continues until you wear them down and the weary homeowner decides it’s better to invite you in for cake and wassail than to continue listening to your off-key singing.

Nothing says Merry Christmas like a rap battle or poetry slam!

Where did Mari Lwyd come from?

The origins of the tradition vary depending on who you talk to. As a pagan belief system, Mari Lwyd is said to be a modern version of a death or fertility horse. From a Christian standpoint it’s a way to honor the Virgin Mary and her quest for shelter at the time of Jesus’ birth or the subsequent flight into Egypt. The first recorded instance that most scholars agree on is from the 1800s. During this time it was a means for the poor to provide entertainment to the higher classes in hopes that they would bring their less fortunate neighbors in for shelter and food.

Although Mari Lwyd is specific to South Wales, there are many incarnations of this awesome tradition. Incidentally, if you happened to gift a young child with a hobby horse this Christmas, you just handed him the childhood depiction of a Mari Lwyd companion. The next time they prepare a rap or annoying chant to ask for their breakfast, be sure to answer in kind or the day could be full of all kinds of mischief.

Interested in other weird traditions around Christmas? Be sure to add a wandering pooper to your nativity scene or enjoy a traditional Japanese Kentucky Fried Chicken feast. Or you could visit Catatonia and try your hand at creating a Tió de Nadal or Caga Tio (Pooping Log). You feed it throughout December until its poor little wooden belly is full. Then, you sing to it and beat it with a stick until it poops out treats and gifts for you. Yes, really.  



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