We've had an incredible Autumn here in Wales. The days have been warm and sunny, the nights have been starlight with some pretty special celestial occurrences including a supermoon eclipse and the Draconoids and Orionoids meteor showers.
The Autumn colours have been amazing this year - we've had the full rainbow. Beaches, hiking trails and mountains are all fairly quiet at this time of year, so it's the perfect time to explore. In fact Autumn is a very special time to be in Wales.
It starts at the Autumn Equinox - now known as Mabon, named after Mabon, a welsh legendary figure that appears in Wales' most famous text, the Mabinogion, a collection of Medieval welsh prose of folklore, myth & legend. Mabon is a harvest festival, as traditionally at this time of year most of the harvest is over. One of the traditions associated with the festival includes dressing the last remaining corn sheaf in fine clothes, then setting it alight to release the spirit of the corn. Mabon isn't as widely celebrated as some of the other Autumn festivals nowadays, but it is still important to Wicca, Neodruids, and Neopagans.
Halloween has become a huge festival the world over, and Wales is no exception. In Wales Halloween is thought to derive from the Celtic festival Samhain, or, in Welsh, 'Calan Gaef', marking the end of Summer and beginning of Winter. It also marked the beginning of the New Year. Traditionally at this time of year bonfires were lit, animals were slaughtered and preserved for the winter ahead, and it was a celebration of the dead, a time when spirits were on the loose! Long before pumpkins were carved, lanterns were made out of turnips in Wales. Today, Halloween is celebrated widely, with fancy dress, games, ghost stories, pumpkin carving, and trick or treating - and many of the same customs that are seen the world over. Want to celebrate Halloween in Wales? Try a ghost tour of one of Wales' many supposedly haunted castles and manor houses; run through a corn maze being chased by locals dressed up as zombies and witches; or cosy up next to the log fire in one of Wales' oldest pubs for some ghost stories from a traditional storyteller.
A more recent festival is Bonfire Night, held on November 5th every year. It marks the foiled Gunpowder plot of 1605 to blow up the Houses of Parliment. An effigy of one of the plotters, Guy Fawkes, is traditionally made from clothes stuffed with straw, and burnt on top of the bonfire. Today, huge fireworks displays are held up and down the country; and traditional Autumn food such as hog roast, toffee apples and jacket potatoes.
Aside from the important Autumn celebrations in Wales, there are many quieter, casual customs that form part of people's lives in the Autumn in Wales. One of the most loved activities is blackberry picking - these deliciously sweet berries can be eaten raw straight off the bush, or cooked into one of the UK's best loved dishes - the fruit crumble, served with custard, naturally. They also make a tasty jam (preserve) or even better, home-brewed wine!
If you're in Britain at this time of year, you'll probably notice groups of children gathered under large Horse Chesnut trees. What are they doing? Well, they are more than likely hunting for the largest, roundest,shiniest 'conker' they can find. Conkers are the seeds of the Horse Chesnut tree, which are drilled through the middle, threaded onto a string, and knotted, to make a toy to be used in battles against another. Players take it in turns to batter the opponent's conkers with their own - whichever breaks last wins. There aren't many people who grew up in Wales who didn't get a black eye or bloody lip from playing conkers.
Autumn is a magical, mystical, and mischievous time in Wales.He wasn't talking about Autumn when he wrote 'Do not go gentle into that good night' but to borrow the words of famous Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, everything and everyone seems to 'rage, rage, against the dying of the light'.