Christmas customs


The Christmas season has been celebrated in Europe since pre-Christian times and has retained its immense popularity up until the present day. In Wales the term y gwyliau ('holidays') refers to a succession of festivals occurring over a twelve-day Christmas period, when, whether for religious or secular reasons, most of us rejoice and make merry to commemorate the end of one year and to look forward with anticipation to the next.

Considering the importance of Christmastide in Wales through the ages, small wonder that many customs have grown up around it. Although most of these died out with the emergence of industrialisation toward the end of the 19th century, some, such as the plygain carol service, still remain in certain areas.

Plygain Singing
Plygain Singing

The plygain service was traditionally held between 3 and 6am on Christmas morning, when, following an evening of such pleasant diversions as singing, dancing and toffee making, villagers trekked by torch-light to the parish church. Upon arrival, carols were sung, usually unaccompanied and often very lengthy. Parties took turns to perform, and as soon as one finished another was ready to take their place.

Wassailing and Hunting the Wren at MWL

After the plygain the rest of Christmas day was devoted to mirth and revelry. Food and drink featured prominently, as did sports and games during the afternoon. Other common activities over the festive period included enactments of the Mari Lwyd horse ritual by men and boys, and wassailing and hunting the wren ceremonies wishing good luck and prosperity for the coming months. On New Year's Day children would go from house to house to collect calennig or New Year's Gifts.

The above customs all continue to be performed annually St Fagans's Christmas fair.

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