The Wildest Holiday In History: Gwyl Mabsant
Looking back at some historical holidays, we kind of got an unfair deal. We get Arbor Day, a day theoretically dedicated to trees but practically dedicated to nothing, and Columbus Day, a day celebrated by people trying to defend a racist on the internet. Meanwhile, we don’t get Gwyl Mabsant.
Gwyl Mabsant means “Feast of the Patron,” and it, appropriately, was a religious festival that honored a parish’s patron saint. While it was intended to be a time of prayer, Gwyl Mabsant experienced a major shift around the time of the Reformation. This took away much of the religious context from the festival and replaced it with partying that would make any frat boy jealous.
The true saint of Gwyl Mabsant was booze, and this more popular version of the festival involved days of drinking and participating in sports and games. Contests like eating hot pudding and racing wheelbarrows while blindfolded would get a laugh out of Gwyl Mabsant attendees. Old women participated in “grinning matches,” which might be a version of gurning, an English contest in which people try to make and maintain the ugliest face possible. Drunkenly laughing at old ladies was probably as good a time as drunks were going to have in the days before beer pong and Waffle House …
Gambling was another major appeal to Gwyl Mabsant, and the main draw was cockfighting. Owners became stars of the festival and betting on the fights sort of became the main event.
Of course, between the gambling, drinking, and mocking of the elderly, someone was bound to ruin the fun. Like a resident assistant in a college dorm, someone had to come in and break up the party. In this instance, religious leaders began to object to the festivities associated with Gwyl Mabsant.
Revival movements started pushing back against the festivals around the middle of the 18th century. Gwyl Mabsant didn’t survive in any form much longer, and now one of the most fun holidays but a small blip in the history books and a loss for WorldStar viewers.