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Mari Lwyd proves a star attraction on a night out in an American city

22 Dec 2023 3 minute read
Members of the Chicago Tafia at the Pleasant House pub with their Mari Lwyd (Credit: David Parry)

To many of us in Wales, the festive tradition of the Mari Lwyd is a familiar sight.

However, to the uninitiated, encountering a horse’s skull on a pole for the first time could unsurprisingly prove quite a startling moment.

So it was that members of the Chicago Tafia – the Welsh expats group, based in and around the Windy City – found themselves celebrating the traditional festive heritage at a Xmas gathering in the city.

And according to the group’s chief organiser, David Parry, the Mari Lwyd always attracts attention on the group’s festive pub crawls around Chicago, but it was all done to promote Welsh traditions and allow those expats who can’t make it home to experience a little bit of Wales across the Atlantic.

“The Chicago Tafia has done a pre-Christmas/Festivus pub night around Chicago for close to 20 years,” said David, who is originally from Aberystwyth. “With the price of flights at this time of year, a lot of us can’t make it back to Wales for the holidays, so we tend to stay here. Our pub night is a good opportunity for a Welsh get together to have a few pints.”

Chicago Tafia member Dave Novak with the Mari Lwyd (Credit: David Parry)

David had the idea to create the Mari Lwyd, pre-pandemic in 2019 and has been a feature of the expat group’s gatherings ever since – espcially at their base the Pleasant House pub, a watering hole that also has a Cofiwch Drywern sign emblazoned on a wall.

Unsurprisingly, the Mari Lwyd has met with some puzzling looks from those encountering the mystical Welsh figure with baubles for eyes, a mane of colourful streamers and white cloak flowing from her skull, attached to a pole held by a person inside it.

“I originally bought the skull on eBay back in late 2019, and we took a partially completed Mari out for her first jaunt around the bars in suburban Homewood, Illinois in January 2020,” he said.

“With the resurgence of unusual old traditions from around the world via social media, Mari Lwyd is becoming nearly as well known as Krampus or Gryla, so many of the locals in the pubs were already somewhat aware of the tradition. Nonetheless, the image of a festively dressed horse skull being carried in the door always sparks some curiosity.

“A bit of a pandemic threw off our usual Christmas plans for 2020. However, n 2021, triple vaxxed and raring for a night out we did our first proper Christmas pub night out around Chicago with Mari, and she’s become a fixture on our annual Festivus pub crawl ever since.”

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