Mari Lwyd (pronounced: 'Marry Loo-id'): This was once common throughout South Wales and it belonged to the season of Christmas and New Year. The Mari Lwyd, literally Grey Mary, was a horse’s skull decorated with colourful ribbons that was taken from house to house, carried by a man concealed under a white sheet. The Mari Lwyd party consisted of four or five people who would engage the inhabitants of a house in a poetic contest. The party remained outside until either themselves or their competitors failed to answer a rhyme. If the party failed to answer then they would move on to the next house, however, if the inhabitants failed then the Mari Lwyd party had the right to enter and eat and drink with the losers.
Mari Lwyd was inspired by Vernon Watkins' poem ‘The Ballad of Mari Lwyd’. Watkins' poem uses the rhythmic properties of the opening lines of the first stanza, 'Midnight. Midnight. Midnight. Midnight. Hark at the hands of the clock.', to create the importance of time throughout the ballad by using these lines as a recurring motif. In a similar fashion the percussion represents the chimes of the clock striking midnight.
The following is an excerpt of the ‘Ballad of Mari Lwyd’ by Vernon Watkins:
Mari Lwyd, Horse of Frost, Star-horse, and White Horse of the Sea, is carried to us.
The Dead return.
Those exiles carry her, they who seem holy and have put on corruption, they who seem corrupt and have put on holiness.
They strain against the door.
They strain towards the fire which fosters and warms the Living.
The Living, who have cast them out, from their own fear, from their own fear of themselves, into the outer loneliness of death, rejected them, and cast them out for ever:
The Living cringe and warm themselves at the fire, shrinking from that loneliness, that singleness of heart.
The Living are defended by the rich warmth of the flames which keeps that loneliness out.
Terrified, they hear the Dead tapping at the panes; then they rise up, armed with the warmth of firelight, and the condition of scorn.
It is New Year's Night.
Midnight is burning like a taper. In an hour, in less than an hour, it will be blown out.
It is the moment of conscience.
The living moment.
The dead moment.