Guest blog from Hisdoryan
Wales’ unusual Christmas traditions are rooted in our long history. Some of our surviving traditions are even thought to have Celtic origins.
So here are five unique Christmas traditions from Wales –
which ones have you heard of?
1. Plygain – Plygain is a special service complete with carols which takes place in a church between three and six o'clock on Christmas morning. But how does one stay awake until the early morning? By making toffee, of course! A Noson Gyflaith – or toffee evening – where the sweet treat was made, was an essential part of the Plygain preparations.
2. Holming – One Christmas tradition that definitely does NOT need reviving is the practice of holming! On St Stephen’s Day (which we now call Boxing Day) Welsh men would beat the arms and legs of young women with branches of holly until they bled. Yikes!
3. Calennig – The festive Welsh version of trick and treating, the practice of calennig saw children go from door to door singing. In return, they were given sweets and money - also called Calennig. Calennig is a Welsh word which translates as 'the first day of the month'.
4. Hunting The Wren – A Welsh tradition thought to be rooted in ancient history, this practice took place between the 6th of January and Twelfth Night. A party of men who would go out and catch a small wren. Sometimes it would be killed but sometimes it would be put alive in a little cage and carried through the neighbourhood, the men singing songs.
5. Mari Llwyd – Another tradition thought to originate in pre-Christian Wales, the Mari Llwyd has seen a revival in recent years. A horse’s head on a pole, covered in a cloth and adorned with ribbons, is carried around the area by a group of men. When the group gets to a house, they engage in 'pwnco' – a rhyming contest or battle of wits – to gain entry and some hospitality! It’s great to see some historic traditions – like Plygain and the Mari Llwyd – enduring, but at the same time there are some traditions that many people are happy died out. I mean, who wants to wake up on Boxing Day to a holly branch beating?!
Check out the Hisdoryan blog for history articles from Wales and beyond.