Nos Galan Gaeaf

You might know November 1st as a day to celebrate All Souls Day or Días De La Muerta but there is another holiday that also takes place on November 1st: Calan Gaeaf. Calan Gaeaf is a Welsh holiday. Like Halloween the day before Calan Gaeaf was called Nos Galan Gaeaf or Spirit Night.


Similar to our understanding of Halloween and traditions that shaped Halloween it is believed that Nos Galan Gaeaf is the time when the veil is the thinnest between the living and the dead. On Nos Galan Gaeaf it is suggested that you avoid all places where spirits are likely to gather such as churchyards, graveyards, and crossroads.

One of the popular albeit morbid games often played was called Coelcerth. Families would build massive fires and place stones in the fires with their names on it. If any of the stones were unable to be found it was believed that it would mean that the person whose stone was missing would die within a year.

Nos Galan Gaeaf was also a time to celebrate the second harvest and the stored food that would see the people through their winter. A harvest feast was typically had and there were dancing and frolicking into the night.

In North and South Wales there are two different focuses of Nos Galan Gaeaf that bringing together bring together two important parts of the world, black and white, together. In the south, there is the focus of ‘Ladi Wen’, also known as a Lady in White. Although this Lady in White isn’t our typical Resurrection Mary because Ladi Wen has no head. In the North, there is ‘nwch ddu gwta’ which presented a black sow without a tail. Together they would roam all of Wales together on the night of Nos Galan Gaeaf. They were two terrifying beings so if you weren’t by a raging outdoor fire, in a barn, home, or another dwelling you might be in serious trouble.

Nos Galan Gaeaf was also a good night to try and test future-telling. It was said that boys could ten ivy leaves throw away one and put the rest under his head before he sleeps to see his future. Girls should train a wild rose to grow into a hoop then on Nos Galan Gaeaf she should climb through it three times, cut it in complete silence, and go to bed with its length under her pillow.

Around the 18th century as Wales grew less and less rural the traditions of Nos Galan Gaeaf began to die away. However, Nos Galan Gaeaf night is still not wholly forgotten and remains a night to think about strange spectres, headless wraiths, and foreboding tailless sows.

The above image is unrelated to the story and is by Flickr user aseop. It is licensed under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).