Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~Reflections at New Year

It would sound such a daftly easy question for a teacher to ask: ‘Children, when is New Year’s Day?’  Except if the children lived in the Gwaun Valley in North Pembrokeshire, they could well suspect they were being tricked. For in the Gwaun Valley, ever since 1582 when the Gregorian calendar replaced the Julian calendar, New Year has continued to be remembered on January 13th.

On the way:

So that’s why, at this point of the year, I find myself on my way into memory in the passenger seat of the Morris Minor of my redoubtable Aunty Mali. We’re on the way to celebrate Nos Calan in the warmly welcoming farmhouse of Mr and Mrs Saunders Vaughan in the middle of the Gwaun Valley. I had guessed beforehand that there’d be a sensational welcome. Mrs Saunders Vaughan was a bustling, endlessly talkative woman with a cackling kind of voice. She’d come into Fishguard every week with an enormous basket of eggs for selling to her regular customers, of whom my mother was one. Mr Saunders Vaughan was a quietly spoken and kindly man. Both were immensely hospitable.


But how could I have known quite how much I’d experience when we reached Pontfaen where Mr and Mrs Saunders Vaughan lived? A girl of ten or eleven years old for whom this was her first Nos Calan? For a start, there were so many people, everyone who lived in the Gwaun Valley and thereabouts so far as I could discover. And everyone was being fed. In shifts. On a long, long table set up in the kitchen. Children and old people first. Then the young people, then the middle-aged. Finally, the women who’d been doing the serving. Cold meats. Chutneys. Salads. Puddings. After the eating came the singing, reciting and dramatic sketches performed by the young people in the main sitting-room of the farmhouse while meantime, in the smoke-room cwtched by the roaring coal fire, the old men would have filled their tankards with home-brew beer and already be raising their voices in rousing renderings of Y Mochyn Du (the black pig) and other locally well-loved songs.

That first time I went to Nos Calan was the truly memorable time. On the subsequent once or twice that I went back, the tradition had lost some of its verve and fullness. It remains in my mind in the richness with which I first experienced it.


After Aunty Mali got back to Fishguard, a very odd thing happened. I only learned about it later. As I often did, I was staying with Aunty Mali and we went to bed and to sleep in her high two-mattressed bed. Meantime, across the road, my father became worried as to whether we’d got back alright. So, evidently, he picked up his torch, came over to Aunty Mali’s, let himself in with the key to her house that our family kept, proceeded upstairs, came into the room where he knew she slept and shone his torch onto the bed to check we were there. Reassured, he went back home.

My question:

But what on earth was he thinking of? Wouldn’t we have been terrified if we’d happened to wake up? Ah well, strange things do happen. Like old and much-valued traditions, they furnish a young person’s mind with memories that do not fade.

PS:  Paul and I have got into the habit of making our own calendars except that we don’t seem to have got round to it yet for 2020. Meantime, my top photo today is a reflections photo from January 2019. The bottom photo is a favourite photo of that redoubtable Aunty Mali.


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