Welsh Mari Lwyd and English wassailing and traditions meet in the Marches at this winter festival in Chepstow. On the Welsh side of the River Wye which separates the two countries, the Mari-Lywd ceremony involves a decorated horse’s skull mounted on a pole (like a hobby horse) being carried by a person hidden beneath a cloth. With a group of other costumed participants the Mari Lwyd calls at local houses to engage in a ‘pwnco’, a back and forth contest, in song, to gain access to the household and be given food and drink. They then bless the house, wish the inhabitants a happy new year and move on.
Meanwhile, on the English side of the river, a wassail takes place. The Wassail Butler leads a group of Morris dancers in singing and dancing around apple trees. A wassailing bowl filled with cider is passed around and drunk from and a little cider is spilled on the roots of the tree to bring about a good harvest. When the wassail is finished, the revellers cross the river, meeting their Welsh counterparts on the bridge in the early evening for an exchange of flags, and singing, dancing and well-wishing.