The Chepstow Wassail Mari Lwyd is a very popular annual event combining the mainly English tradition of Wassailing, the Welsh Mari Lwyd tradition, plus a unique social meeting of the English and Welsh on the Welsh/English border (The river Wye bridge) There is also Morris dancing and a Country Dance Ceilidh.The event is hosted by The Widders Welsh Border Morris, the local team and supported by Monmouthshire County Council, Chepstow Town Council, Chepstow Acoustic Music Club, Glosfolk and the good people of Chepstow and abroad.
The Mari-Lwyd is an Welsh winter first footing tradition which dates back many centuries.The Mari is a decorated, shrouded horse skull which is carried from house to house or pub by the Mari Lwyd group of performers who attempt to gain entry for food and drink through song, rhyme and riddles called “the Pwnco”, a rhyme/song battle between the Mari group and the inhabitants of the house/pub. After some singing, daft capers and banter between the inhabitants and the Mari group the Mari group are eventually allowed inside to partake of small food and drink, there is usually singing and rowdy banter after which the Mari group bless the house and it’s inhabitants (thlwncdestyn) wish all a happy New Year and move on to the next port of call. The Chepstow Mari Lwyd takes place on the steps of Chepstow museum in Bridge St where a large part of the town and many visitors turns out to watch the proceedings. There are also several Morris teams and players of various types, including Mummers, Green Man, Minstals etc.
Wassailing is a mostly English tradition of blessing apple trees and asking for a good harvest for the following year. The Wassail is directed by the main character “The Wassail Butler” The Butler has a special Wassail bowl full of good cider which is passed from person to person, after taking a sip from the bowl, the bowl is held aloft to a rousing shout of WASSAIL! There is usually a huge bonfire, Morris dancers and singers. People form a circle around the tree sing, and hang offerings of toast onto the branches. The Butler pours some cider onto the roots of the tree and gives a speech after which there is more singing and dancing. Sometimes a shotgun is fired over the tree to ward off any malevolent spirits that may be foolish enough to interrupt the proceedings. We use party poppers, we have lost our shotgun!!
A unique and very special part of the proceedings. At a certain point in the evening the Wassailers (over in England) send up a large firework rocket which explodes over the river to signal to the Mari Lwyd group (Here in Wales) that the Wassail is finished, and the English revelers are about to process to the border (middle of the old Wye bridge) There are musicians and dancers carrying lanterns and pushing an apple cart containing a decorated apple tree to meet with the Welsh. Meanwhile, the Welsh contingent including several Mari’s, Morris dancers, Mummers and a huge crowd of rowdy followers gather on the Welsh side of the bridge to await the signal from the lookout, waiting at the border. The horn sounds, the English are approaching. The Welsh gather themselves and both English and Welsh groups slowly march toward the border, each group brandishing their respective flags…..To the uninitiated, they could be marching to war! Then, they converge at the border and all peace breaks out! Wassail!! Wassail! Greetings all. There is much merriment and hand shaking , Happy New Year. They exchange flags then singing and dancing begins. After a short while The Werlsh invite the English to join them in Wales for The Mari Lwyd ceremony.