Reminder Assistant Editor
SOUTH HADLEY The Annual Christmas Gathering of the Welsh Society of Western New England was an event filled with both song and history. The society brought in singer Jodee James to share some tales of what the holidays are like in Wales.
James is a top Celtic artist in mp3 sales and performs the music of Wales and the other Celtic lands. She sings ancient tales and ageless themes of love, loyalty, longing and mystery, according to her Web site, www.jodeejames.com. Her performance at the gathering focused on what those in Wales used to do before, during and after Christmas.
James sings songs both in English and in Welsh, and in one song, even sang in Cornish.
She opened with the story of the Holly King and the Oak King, who would battle each year on the winter solstice. This year, the solstice will be taking place on Dec. 21.
From there, James moved onto the traditions surrounding Christmas day, including the fun surrounding the making and drinking of the wassail, or the spiced ale or mulled wine.
She also taught those in attendance about one of the strangest and most ancient customs certain peoples in Glamorgan and Gwent in Wales used to mark the passing of the darkest days of midwinter, Y Fari Lwyd (pronounced merry loyd), meaning the Grey Mare.
The people would take a horse's skull and place it on a pole, decorate it and drape a white sheath behind it. The "horse" and its party would arrive at the door of a home, where the party would sing several introductory verses of a song called "The Grey Mare." This was followed by a battle of wits in which the people inside the door and the Mari party outside exchange challenges and insults in rhyme. At the end of the battle, which could be as long as the creativity of the two parties holds out, the Mari party enters with another song and wreaks havoc.
This custom had fallen out of practice a while ago because it was dangerous the parties entering homes often knocked over candles or lanterns -- but James said the youth in Wales are starting to bring the tradition back, especially at colleges.
James' performance concluded with all those in attendance singing "Good King Wenceslas," the story of a king who goes out to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen (the second day of Christmas, Dec. 26).
She also wished all a Nadolig Llawen -- a Welsh Merry Christmas.
The Welsh Society of Western New England's next gathering will be in celebration of St. David's Day. St. David is the patron saint of Wales.
To learn more about the society, visit www.welshwne.org.
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