7 Welsh Christmas traditions you’ll wish we still celebrated

Don't get your Mari Lwyd out this Halloween

7 Welsh Christmas traditions you’ll wish we still celebrated

From midnight mass to carol singing, there are plenty of Christmas traditions that are firmly part of the festivities.

But there are a few Welsh traditions that you might not know about. Some are heart-warming, others are downright strange… but they all were once a celebrated tradition in Wales.

1. The Mari Lwyd

The Mari Lwyd was the name given to a decorated horse’s skull, which was part of an unusual New Year’s ritual in 19th century Wales.

The skull would be decorated with bells and draped in a white sheet before being placed on top of a wooden pole. The figure would then be carried from door to door by a group challenging others to a battle of Welsh verse.

This strange tradition still takes place in some part of Wales and will run as part of a Widders annual event near Chepstow Castle on the 17 of January.

Don't get your Mari Lwyd out this Halloween

Don’t get your Mari Lwyd out this Halloween

2. Carols by twilight

Attending a Plygain service from 3am-6am on Christmas morning was once a key festive tradition in 19th century rural Wales.

While many people would rise early for the service, most would stay awake through the night before attending. This twilight tradition would involve unaccompanied male voices singing three or four part harmony carols in the local parish chapel as a way to see in the celebrations of Christmas Day.

The Plygain tradition still lives on in many areas of Wales and often plays a role in the Cadw Christmas events calendar at sites such as Tintern Abbey and St Davids Bishop’s Palace.

3. Wren day

On Twelfth Night in 19th century Wales, groups of men would go out ‘Hunting the Wren’. Once captured, the tiny bird would be caged in a wooden box and carried door-to-door for all to see.

The rural parish community of Carew, home to one of Cadw’s most famous monuments, the Carew Cross, could have been a setting for this extraordinary tradition.

4. Calennig

From dawn until noon on New Year’s Day, children in early 19th century Wales would go from door to door, singing rhymes, splashing people with water and asking for calennig, which were gifts of small change.

Blaenavon Ironworks’ Stack Square would have been a prime spot for resident children to ask for Calennig – and what’s more, it is quite possible that the spooky Mari Lwyd was carried from door to door at the square too!

5. Holming

The day after Christmas was celebrated in early 19th century Wales with the unpleasant ritual of “holming.” Thankfully now an extinct custom, the last person to get out of bed in the morning would be beaten with prickly holly sprigs. Ouch!

6. Christmas toffee

Noson Gyflaith (Toffee Evening) was a traditional part of Christmas and New Year festivities in some areas of north Wales during the late 19th century. Families would invite friends to their homes for supper followed by games, making toffee (or taffy), and storytelling.

The resident cooks at Castell Coch’s kitchen may well have produced some good old-fashioned taffy during Lord and Lady Bute’s occupancy.

7. Wassail bowls

Drinking from the wassail bowl was a lucky New Year tradition in Wales at the turn of the century.

Taken from Anglo-Saxon and Tudor customs, the ornate bowl would be filled with fruit, sugar, spices and topped up with warm beer.

Just imagine the wassail bowl being passed around at Caerphilly Castle’s Great Hall.

To find out more visit the Cadw website.

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