Copy of Easter Fun and Frolics Circa 1750
No, this is a modern picture of course - rather tame looking 'Easter cupcakes'. In our times, apart from practising Christians, Easter seems aimed at children. There is even confusion in many people's minds as to what happens in Easter week, leading up to Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Monday. It seems to be all about chocolate, lambs and chicks, divorced from any ancient symbolism in the act of consumption.
In the Eighteenth Century, though, they marked the increasing tension and suspense of Easter week as the drama unfolded, escalating from the triumph at the temple into betrayal and on to the horrific violence of crucifixion itself. On the Monday before Easter for example, children would beg for eggs ( real ones - luckily hens would have started laying by then). They would go from house to house banging wooden clappers and chanting rhymes such as 'Clap, clap, gofyn wy, i hogia' bach ar y plwy'. Clappers can be seen in St Fagan's. On Good Friday church services were held and the mood was understandably solemn with no carts or horses to be seen and people 'walking barefoot to the church so as not to disturb the earth'.
The main focus however was the celebration of ressurection. I must admit to being rather envious of the passion generated. They really knew how to party! Like New Year, Calan Mai, Gwyl Ifan, it was a chance to get out, get together, eat after abstinence, drink your fill. The privations of an observed Lent would only heighten the appreciation of Easter celebrations; the tighter the cork, the greater the bubbles and like most special days in Eighteenth Century Wales, Easter celebrations involved going up the nearest hill together and having fun. A witness tells us that locals got up at sunrise on Easter Sunday to climb Dinas Bran and 'do three somersaults to greet the rising sun'. Another speaks of the custom of taking a basin of water up a hill to 'see the reflected sun dancing on the horizon'. There were special hymns for Easter and whole villages turned out to clean and dress the graves with flowers. Over the centuries The Church had assimilated many pagan practices and communities moved seemigly effortlessly through their rituals and traditions but it was the release of tension on Easter Monday that seemed to occasion the most riotous celebrations.
Not only were punters back in the cock pit, but all forms of sports were played, including sometimes by women. Locals were 'good -naturedly' taken from their beds and put in the stocks and gangs of women went around grabbing men and 'lifting' them on chairs (Monday) to be followed by the reverse on Tuesday. Family's with a bit of cash would bribe the 'lifters' to let their own daughters alone and doors were bolted against the abducters.
I'm 'getting out there' myself this Easter. We've got family staying andwe're going to the tiny chapel to bash through some Easter carols followed by a huge dinner at Fantasy Farm and a walk on the beach. On Monday I'm going to down a glass of bubbly for my nerves, put on a corset and a velvet gown and play my cello at Plas Nanteos. It will be pretty tame by Georgian standards but by far the most fun I've had in a long time for Easter. Pasg Hapus!
Many thanks to Trefor M. Owen's Welsh Folk Customs