Calan Gaeaf - Sarah Woodbury

Calan Gaeaf

fallen princess front v2November 1 is known today to the Catholic Church as All Saint’s Day, but within Celtic tradition, it was always celebrated as the first day of winter. The Church took this pagan tradition (as it did with many others) and made it a holy day. During the medieval period, Calan Gaeaf was a harvest festival. The night before, Nos Galan Gaeaf, was a moment when the veil between the human world and the world of the spirits thinned. Nos Galan Gaeaf has become the modern Halloween.

“The harvest had been gathered in, excess livestock had been culled or killed off and put into storage for the coming year. It was very much a communal festivity, a time for celebration and enjoyment. Everyone, from the farmer to the lowest cow hand, had participated in growing crops and keeping the animals and now they would celebrate together.

Often this manifested itself in the traditions such as the harvest mare. Corn would be fashioned into the shape of a horse and hung above the hearth. But getting the harvest mare into the house was a cause of much horseplay – the origin of the term – when women tried to prevent it coming inside, soaking it with water, and the men attempted to keep it dry.

In Wales 1 November, the first day of winter, was called Calan Gaeaf. The night before – the eve of the day – was referred to as Nos Galan Gaeaf or, occasionally Spirit Night. And many traditions gradually grew up around the festival. Almost inevitably, they were connected with all things frightening or disconcerting.”

As a side note for my American readers, ‘corn’ is a New World food and was not available in Europe until after 1492. However, in the UK ‘corn’ is a generic word which refers to all grains used to produce flour (barley, wheat, as well as ‘maize’ in modern times).


  • Coelcerth – Families build a fire and place stones with their names on it. The person whose stone is missing the next morning would die within the year.
  • Yr Hwch Ddu Gwta – Legend has it that a fearsome spirit called Yr Hwch Ddu Gwta took the form of a tail-less black sow and roamed the countryside with a headless woman. Children would rush home early.
  • Eiddiorwg Dalen – A few leaves of ground ivy is thought to give you the power to see hags. For prophetic dreams a boy should cut ten ivy leaves, throw away one and put the rest under his head before he sleeps. A girl should take a wild rose grown into a hoop, creep through it three times, cut it in silence, and go to bed with it under her pillow.