Weird & Wonderful Welsh Christmas Traditions You Didn't Know About
We’re well into December now and Christmas is on it’s way. We hope you’re enjoying the festive cheer and making the most of your favourite Xmas indulgences.
December is perfect time for throwing yourself into tradition and having fun. Whether you are a family who put their trees up on a certain date or you always go to a Christingle service (even as a grown adult), Christmas traditions truly warm the heart.
When we think of Christmas traditions (those that most people in the UK tend to follow), we are reminded of the following:
- Putting stockings out on Christmas Eve
- Advent calendars
- Roast dinners (too many of them), specifically with Turkey and Pigs in Blankets
- Decorating the home
- Christmas trees being put up and decorated
- Baking Christmas cake and gingerbread
- Gift giving and receiving
And the list goes on.
But what about Welsh traditions? Are there any Christmas traditions that are different in Wales?
The answer to that is… “ie” (that’s “yes” in Welsh).
And if you’re interested in finding out what they are, crack open a bottle of port, open the box of crackers, get the cheese out of the fridge, and read on…
Here are 8 Welsh Christmas traditions to delve into:
Hunting the Wren
Wren Day, Day of the Wren or Hunt the Wren Day was celebrated in Wales between the 6th and 12th January, this is to represent the twelfth night.
While it is no longer celebrated, it is really interesting to discover the old Welsh customs and how “Hunting the Wren” was executed.
What the procession involved was a group of men, carrying a small wren in a wooden cage door-to-door through the town. People in the houses would then pay to see the wren.
Nowadays, the Day of the Wren is still celebrated in Ireland. It is celebrated on 26th December, the equivalent to Boxing Day, a fake wren is placed on top of a pole and this is paraded through the town. It is followed by strawboys, men dressed-up in straw suits and masks, and watched by a crowd, known as Wrenboys.
Why a wren? It could be that a wren was chosen because of its connection with royalty and prestige.
Plygain - The Dawn Chorus
Plygain is still an active custom in Mid-Wales and is a significant feature of a Welsh Christmas. It is a traditional Welsh Christmas service and is essentially singing between the hour of 3am and 6am on Christmas Day.
But why so early?
It is believed the word “Plygain” comes from the latin word “pullicantio” which is “when the cock crows at dawn”.
And how is Plygain different from Christmas Mass?
Apart from the time of day it takes place, all the verses of the songs in the Plygain reference the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, as well as his birth, unlike Christian carols.
Sweet Tooth Taffy
Taffy, or Everton toffee was made by Welsh families on Christmas Eve in the lead up to the Plygain service. They would stay up waiting for the Christmas service and make this delicious toffee.
Some would invite others round to join them to help make it too! This is known as Noson Gyflaith.
Mrs Beeton’s recipe published on the BBC is a great recipe to follow if you want to have a go at the traditional Welsh Christmas custom.
Mari Lwyd - Why the Long Face?
The “Mari Lwyd” stands for the “grey mare” and is a pre-Christian tradition thought to bring good luck in the New Year.
The horse figure is made and adorned with ornamental ears and eyes.
It would also be further decorated with coloured ribbons, bells and paper. It would then be paraded around the town. The party would challenge different houses to a battle of wits (known as pwnco).
After this battle, the Mari Lwyd party would be invited into the house for refreshments.
Wassail (Getting Merry on Cider)
Wassailing originates from the anglo-saxon term “waes hael” to be healthy and relates to the drinking and sharing of cider. The wassailing bowl would be full of cider to share amongst the town.
Wassail is a hot mulled cider that is typically drunk around Christmas and was originally intended to toast and hope for a good harvest of cider apples the following year.
Sounds like a great excuse for mulled cider if you ask us.
Calennig - Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread
Calennig is the Welsh celebration of New Years Day that typically involves gift giving.
Bread and cheese is the most common gift that is offered (as if we haven’t eaten enough over Christmas itself).
Children typically receive an apple on a stick with fruit and raisins.
In order to exchange all the gifts, all relatives should be visited before midday.
Gwyl San Steffan (St. Stephens Day)
The equivalent of Boxing Day and a day to celebrate St Stephan. We have to feel lucky that the Welsh no longer continue the tradition that they practiced before the 19th century.
Their ancient custom involved the bleeding of livestock and flogging servants and late risers with holly branches.
Supposedly, these customs bought good luck.
The Holly and the Mistletoe
Homes were decorated with mistletoe and holly, since holly was believed to represent eternal life and mistletoe was thought to protect the family from evil.
Mistletoe was also thought to bring good luck.
When reviewing the Norse meanings of these plants, holly was a fertility symbol too and, kept witches away (bonus), while mistletoe symbolized love and friendship.
We still have holly and mistletoe in our Christmas tradition collection today.
Christmas at Lake Country House
Photo: Snow in the Brecon Beacons.
Luckily for our guests we don’t follow all the old Welsh customs of Christmas and you can be safe in the knowledge, there will be no captured wren or reprimands fir those who get up late.
We have various offers during our Christmas advent and we are also open for New Year.
We provide all our guests first-class service whether you are popping in for afternoon tea with our Xmas advent offer, or if you are staying longer for a romantic spa break.
After all, Christmas is a time to relax with your loved ones and take a well-needed rest before partying into the New Year.