Mari Lwyd, translating to “Grey Mare”, is a Welsh winter tradition for the new year. It involves carting a horse – consisting of a mare’s skull fixed to the end of a wooden pole; a white sheet is fastened to the back of the skull, concealing the pole and the person carrying the Mari. The lower jaw is sometimes spring-loaded, so that the Mari’s ‘operator’ can snap it at passers-by or householders. – door to door, along with a traveling group of colorful singers and dancers.During the ceremony, the skull is carried through the streets of the village by the party; they stand in front of every house to sing traditional songs.
The singing sometimes consists of a rhyme contest (pwnco or pwngco) between the Mari party and the inhabitants of the house, who challenge each other with improvised verses (traditionally exchanged through the closed door); the contest could last for some time, until one side gave up. Traditionally, if the Mari side lost the contest, they would have to leave without being admitted to the house or pub, but this was probably a very rare occurrence, as the party’s entry into the building brought good luck. Alternatively, they might sing a verse begging admittance. Once inside, the entertainment continued with the Mari running around neighing and snapping its jaws, creating havoc, frightening children while the Leader pretended to try to restrain it.