It’s time to go through some fun Christmas traditions in Wales. In the days before Christmas, it was always customary to decorate your house with mistletoe and holly throughout Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire. Mistletoe was supposed to protect the family from evil, while holly was considered to be a symbol of eternal life. Mistletoe was regarded as the sacred plant of the ancient druids and is now used to decorate for Christmas.
Another Welsh custom is ‘Plygain,’ which is thought to be derived from ‘carols dawn’. Plygain is an early service in either church or chapel, sometimes beginning as early as three in the morning, at this service men – only men, never women – would sing Christmas carols for three or four hours, unaccompanied and in three or four part harmony.
Whilst waiting for Plygain to begin families would occupy themselves in Taffy making. Toffee would be boiled in pans over the open fire and then, when it was almost cooked, huge mounds of the toffee would be dropped into ice cold water. When the “Taffy” hit the cold water it would curl into unusual shapes. The families would look for letters formed in the taffy which were thought by younger family members to indicate the initials of any future love.
After the Plygain a day of feasting and drinking would begin. For the better off families a goose would be the main course, while for those less well off Welsh rarebit, toasted bread and cheese, would be on the menu all washed down with ale.
‘Wassail’ is thought to originate in Anglo-Saxon times and was a tradition regularly practised in Victorian Wales. It involved drinking from a Wassail bowl, an ornate bowl with looped handles. The bowl was carried from house to house where it would be filled with warm beer, spices and sometimes baked apples. The bowl was passed from person to person and each drinker would make a wish for family health, fertile crops and increased livestock. Wassail means to be or grow healthy and was a toast to Yule in pagan times. It was a popular tradition which would also be used at New Year, The feast of Mary of the candles (2 Feb) and May Day, obviously much enjoyed!