Celebrate a Welsh tradition in your classroom: Calan Gaeaf

21 October 2020

For many children, the thought of not trick or treating this Halloween is gloomier than the ghostly stories being told to celebrate the occasion, but why not bring an additional event into your classroom to combat the disappointment?

Hope Education are encouraging teachers this year to celebrate Calan Gaeaf in their classroom and to teach children of all ages about a Welsh tradition little known over the border.

 

What is Calan Gaeaf?

Calan Gaeaf is the name given to the first day of winter in Wales, November 1st., with the night before named as Noson Galan Gaeaf. Very similar to Halloween, the Welsh believe the night between the 31st October and 1st November was a time when spirits came alive.

Traditionally, it was believed spirits gathered in churchyards, stiles and crossroads; which meant people avoided them for that night.

 

Three classroom Calan Gaeaf celebration ideas

Bringing Calan Gaeaf into your classroom can open a world of opportunities for creativity amongst your pupils. Here are some of our ideas for celebrating and recognising this little-known home-grown tradition and going beyond the scary costumes and trick or treating which has become a Halloween benchmark over the last decade.

 

1. Music and dance

Traditionally during Calan Gaeaf children and women would dance around a fire. During this dance, those around the fire would write their name on a rock and place it in or around the fire. When the fire would start to die out, those present would race to get home, believing if they stayed their soul would be consumed by a demon.

A rhyme which translates as ‘home, home, at once. The tailless black sow shall snatch the last one’ was sung around the fire before the children ran home.

Make this work in your classroom by encouraging the children to come up with their own rhymes or songs and a dance routine. This can be done in classroom bubbles or as a solo piece. Why not make it into a competition and see who comes up with the most scary or inventive rhyme.

 

2. Creative writing

Give children the chance to make their own stories up with the beginning of the Calan Gaeaf tradition. Start off by dancing around the fire and singing songs and let them use their imaginations to build the rest of the story.

Allow children to explore themes around mystery and suspense and give them prompts to help develop their stories:

What happens to the children dancing?

When the children run home, do they meet anyone on the way?

Who is at the fire, how do they know each other?

Is the story told in first person or are you telling a story about somebody else?

Encourage children to share their stories with their group or read out some of the stories and replicate the Calan Gaeaf traditions of sharing stories around the fire. We’ve got plenty of story starters for KS1 and KS2 too, many of which will develop the level of suspense and mystery you need for a gripping Calan Gaeaf story.

 

3. Art and Craft

Masks and masquerades were a big part of traditional Calan Gaeaf celebrations in a bid to disguise the wearer from evil spirits. To capture the ‘dress up’ element of Halloween but make it educational with Calan Gaeaf, encourage children to make their own masks and discover the traditions. Top prizes for the best disguise!

There are lots of ways to celebrate and discover this ancient Welsh traditional event and it is a wonderful way to teach children something about the heritage of the United Kingdom and to stave off the disappointment of a less eventful Halloween 2020.

If you’re celebrating Calan Gaeaf in your school, tweet us your photos to @hopeeducationuk. For more spooky inspiration, check out our Halloween activity ideas, plus two craft tutorials: pipe cleaner spiders and ghost tealights.

<a href="https://blog.hope-education.co.uk/author/william-hinch/" target="_self">William Hinch</a>

William Hinch

Hope Education writer

Will has been writing for Hope Education since July 2020, helping provide teachers with tips, advice and insight that helps them educate the next generation. Away from his educational writing, Will is a typical Yorkshireman; a lover of ale, cricket and tea!
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