Julian or Gregorian New Year in Pembrokeshire?

Image by tigerlily713 from Pixabay

Here in Pembrokeshire traditions die hard – and nowhere is this more evident than in the Gwaum Valley. As long ago as 1752, people of what were considered Christian lands were forced to give up their old calendar and a adopt a new one, but not in the Valley.

The old calendar, accredited to the Roman emperor Julius Caesar, was proposed in 46 BC. Designed by Greek astronomers and mathematicians, the Julian calendar  came into  use from 1 January 45 BC.

For over 1,500 years most of  the peoples of Europe and the Roman world ordered their year by the Julian  calendar despite some problems with its accuracy.

Pope Gregory, in the light of better scientific  knowledge, and in an attempt to improve accuracy, proposed  reducing  the length of the year slightly in a papal bull, ‘Inter gravissimas’, in 1582. The Gregorian calendar, as we now know it, began to be adopted around the world over the next 200 years.  

In 1752 it became the calendar most of us are familiar with today in the UK, though it is still used in parts of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy, among the Berbers, and in a small corner of our very own Pembrokeshire.

While the rest of us will welcome 2021 today on 1 January, with a sigh of relief and hope that the dramas of 2020 will quickly fade, the Gwaun Valley folks will be waiting until 13 January, in line with the Julian calendar

Known as Hen Galan, the tradition is for children to go from house to house, letting in the new year with songs and rhymes. In return, they receive Calennig, or sweets and money.

We are waiting to see if the virus of 2020 will do what the rule of law could not achieve in 1752. We are certain that, whatever happens, this tradition will continue in years to come, even if masked and socially distanced.

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Kitty Parsons

Kitty Parsons

Kitty is an incomer, with five summers under her belt and the knowledge that even the wettest and greyest of winters have not diminished her love of Pembrokeshire. She knows she will never live long enough to be considered a local but hopes to leave some small mark through writing about this beautiful county and its people.

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