Like many countries across the globe, Wales has its own unique way of celebrating Christmas. These traditions are kept alive in many rural parts of the country, including right here in North Wales. Some customs you will be familiar with, but other ancient and arcane practises may come as a surprise.
Holly and Mistletoe
Mistletoe was a sacred plant of the Druids and in remembrance of our Celtic heritage the Welsh decorate their homes with it to ward off evil. The Welsh also deck their homes with holly – a symbol of eternal life at a dark time of year.
A (very) early Christmas morning church service. In the days before electricity worshippers would light their way to church with candles, which then beautifully illuminated the darkened interior. Christmas was celebrated with carols, chosen and sung by the congregation.
Noson Gyflaith (Toffee Night)
A bit of fun on Christmas Eve, taffy or toffee making whiled away the hours before the Plygain service began. The toffee often curled into intricate shapes, some resembling letters, believed to foretell the initial of your true love!
A brutal Boxing Day custom involving young men beating the legs of girls with holly branches until they bled! In other parts of Wales, the last person to get out of bed in the morning was beaten.
Mari Lwyd (Grey Mare)
The Mari Lwyd was the bizarre custom of carrying a decorated horse’s skull (similar to a Morris Dancer’s hobby horse) from house to house while singing carols or reciting poems. Householders were expected to banter with the singers and refuse entry until they relented and offered refreshments.
Dydd Calan (New Year’s Day)
Children would visit houses wishing residents good fortune for the year ahead. In return they received a calennig (small gift), usually a few coins or some fruit.
Hunting the Wren
On Twelfth Night, men would go out ‘hunting the wren’. They would go door to door with the tiny bird in a wooden box and householders would pay to see it. The custom has its roots in a tale from the book of Welsh myths, the Mabinogion.