October 13, 2023
People like to celebrate holidays their way. As a result, it shouldn't come as a surprise to learn that Wales has unique Christmas traditions. Some of these share similarities with other customs from around the British Isles. In contrast, others are like nothing else. Either way, Welsh Christmas traditions can make the holiday even more enjoyable, meaning interested individuals should check out our store for related products.
What Are Six Well-Known Welsh Christmas Traditions?
Here are some of the most famous Christmas traditions from Wales:
Gwyl San Steffan means Saint Stephen's Day, which might be better known to interested individuals as Boxing Day. The name refers to the deacon distinguished by being the Protomartyr of the Christian faith. Curiously, the Welsh take on Saint Stephen's Day included a practice called "holly-beating." This consisted of young boys and men beating young girls and women with holly branches until they bled from the arms or the legs. Alternatively, the target was the last person to rise from sleep that morning. Chances are good that interested individuals can guess that "holly-beating" is no longer a thing in Wales.
Mari Lwyd refers to a custom that originated in South Wales. A party of people goes from house to house while carrying a horse's skull on a pole that has been decorated in other ways. It isn't clear what Mari Lwyd means. One theory is "Holy Mary," while a more popular alternative is "Grey Mare." Whatever the case, Mari Lwyd is believed to have pre-Christian roots, which explains why it declined during the first half of the 20th century before reviving in more recent decades.
Toffee making. Photo © National Museum Wales
Noson Gyflaith involves toffee-making. It's presumably something from more recent centuries. After all, people need sugar or molasses to make toffee, which is relevant because these substances weren't common in Europe until the early 19th century. Regardless, Welsh people sometimes spend the evening making toffee before the traditional early morning Christmas service, thus helping themselves to stay awake until the time comes. Generally speaking, Noson Gyflaith is something people do with friends and family. However, some tourist venues now let interested individuals join the fun.
Delwedd:Plygain. Photo wikipedia
Speaking of which, Plygain would be the early morning Christmas service. The name might come from the Latin for "cockcrow." If so, it would be apt because Plygain happens between 3 and 6 a.m., thus explaining the need for people to stay awake. Several things distinguish these services. For example, people often sing carols mentioning Christ's birth, crucifixion, and resurrection. Similarly, people often proceed right to the celebration following the service rather than bed. Besides these things, Plygain is notable for being the one nighttime service, which has been speculated to be a carryover from pre-Christian practices.
Wassail is a hot, mulled punch
Wassail might be a familiar name to interested individuals. That is because it refers to a hot mulled alcoholic beverage that plays a critical role in the custom of people going from house to house during the holiday season throughout much of the British Isles. People tend to associate wassailing with gift-giving. However, it was also a way for people to hope for a bountiful harvest the following year.
Wrens are small, short birds, measuring just 6-10cm in length
Wren Day is on the same day as Saint Stephen's Day. It's another custom that occurs throughout much of the British Isles. People would catch a wren and parade it through their towns and villages. Modern celebrators tend to be much more considerate of the bird's well-being, which is why cages now see use. No one knows why wrens were chosen, though people like to talk about ancient Celtic associations with kingship and the year that is ending.
August 28, 2023
July 23, 2023