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Christmas Traditions

Welsh

TermDefinition
Singing from 3-6am on Christmas Day In the dark hours on the morning of Christmas Day, before the cockerel crowed, men gathered in rural churches to sing. They sang mainly unaccompanied, three or four part harmony carols in a service that went on for three hours or so. That's Plygain. This is a tradition that still thrives in parts of mid Wales.
Taffy-making. This is how families whiled away the dark hours of Christmas Eve's night, leading up to the Plygain service. Toffee was boiled in pans on open fires and - this is a nice twist - dollops were dropped into icy cold water. The taffy curled into all sorts of shapes - like letters. This was a way of divining the initials of the younger, unmarried family members' future loves.
Imagine hearing a knock on your door around Christmas and being challenged to a battle of rhyming insults by a man with a scary horse’s skull on a pole. That's the Mari Lwyd - Grey Mare - a pre-Christian custom that's still acted out in parts of Wales.
The horse’s head had shiny glass marbles eye sockets and a mane of ribbons. The head is truck onto a broom handle and wrapped in a white sheet - just long enough to reach the ground.
These bowls were often elaborate, ornate and many-handled. The bowl was filled with fruit, sugar, and spices and topped up with warm beer. The wassail bowl was passed around, the drinkers would make a wish for a successful year's farming and a bumper crop at harvest time.
From dawn until noon on New Year's Day, all around Wales, groups of young boys would go from door to door, carrying three-legged totems... chanting rhymes, splashing people with water and asking for calennig - gifts of small change.
On the Twelfth Night in Wales, groups of men/ boys would go out Hunting the Wren. The tiny bird would then be caged in a wooden box and carried from door to door. Householders would pay for the privilege of peeping at the poor wren in the box.
Nos Galan celebrates the life and achievements of Welsh runner Guto Nyth Brân. The main race starts with a church service at Llanwynno, and then a wreath is laid on the grave of Guto Nyth Brân in Llanwynno graveyard. The race is started and run by a mystery runner, normally a running or local sporting celebrity.
Celebrated on 26 December, in Wales Boxing Day or St. Stephen's Day is known as Gŵyl San Steffan. In a way unique to Wales it included the tradition of “holly-beating”. Young men and boys would beat the unprotected arms of young females with holly branches until they bled.