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Posted on 06/12/2017 by David

Like other countries across the world, Wales has its own unique way of celebrating Christmas.

From the sweet and heartwarming, to the downright bizarre, some of these traditions have been around for many hundreds of years. Many have long died out, but some have been kept very much alive, especially in more rural parts of the country.

This week we take a look at some of the different ways Christmas was and is celebrated across the region.

Holly and Mistletoe


It's obvious from the many traditional Christmas carols that holly and mistletoe are internationally recognised symbols of the festive season.

Holly is seen as a symbol of eternal life at the darkest time of the year. Mistletoe is the sacred plant of the Druids, and with North Wales having such a stong connection to them, it's little wonder that the Welsh here decorate their homes with huge swathes of it to protect their families from evil.



In the days long before electricity, churchgoers would use candles to light their way to a very early morning church service on Christmas Day, called Plygain.

Between 3am and 6am, they would sing part-harmonies, which were usually unaccompanied. The custom was thought to have died out but in recent years it has regained some popularity, particularly in rural areas.

Taffy making


Definitely one of the more fun - and delicious - of the Welsh Christmas customs!

On Christmas Eve, whilst waiting for the hours to pass until Plygain, many families would make taffy (toffee) at home. It was boiled in pans over an open fire, and once it was nearly cooked, big chunks would be dropped into ice cold water. As it hit the water, it would create shapes that looked like letters. These letters were said to represent the intial of your one true love!


Punch wassail

We tend to think of warming sherries and spiced mulled wine being the traditional booze of Christmas, but the Welsh had wassail going long before that!

It was a mixture of fruit, spices and sugar topped with warm beer, supped from an elaborately decorated bowl with handes. It was passed from drinker to drinker who would each wish for a bumper harvest and a good farming year.

Mari Lwyd (Grey Mare)

Mari Llwyd

This rather strange custom is more associated with South Wales, but was too interesting and unique not to be included!

Mari Lwyd is the carrying of a decorated horse's skull from house to house whilst singing carols, reciting poems or speaking in verse. People in the houses were expected to engage in pwnco (a good-natured exchange of verse and insults) until it was won.

It disappeared for many years, but it is becoming popular again, especially with university students!

Holly beating


This rather brutal custom has died out, thankfully!

It involved young men beating the unprotected legs of girls with holly branches until their legs bled. In other parts of the country, the last person out of bed in the morning was the one to be beaten.

A tradition that will hopefully stay in the history books, never to make a comeback. 

New Year's Day


In Welsh folklore, if the first person to visit a house on New Year's Day was a woman, and a male answered the door, it was bad luck. You wouldn't want a redheaded man to be your first visitor either - he was also bad luck!

On New Year's Day morning, young boys would go around all the houses in the village with twigs and water drawn from the local well. Using the twigs, they would splash water at people and in return would be given calennig (a small gift), usually a few coins or some fruit.

To round off the festivities, on Twelfth Night, the men would go out 'hunting the wren'. This involved going from door to door with a tiny bird caged in a wooden box. The people in the houses would pay to take a peek at the bird. This particular custom had its origins in the Mabinogion - the book of Welsh folklore.

A fascinating glimpse into the history and traditions of Wales, we think you'll agree. Have you ever taken part in any of these customs or others not mentioned here? Share your experience with us on Facebook or Twitter.