Monday, December 10, 2012

Today I learned about Christmas in Wales

Posted by Daniexmachina

Today we continue our investigation of Christmas traditions around the world! Today we have a look at Wales. The Christmas traditions of Wales share a lot with their British neighbor, but there remain traces of ancient Welsh traditions. One of the most popular things in Wales for Christmas is caroling. The Welsh call it eisteddfodde and it's accompanied by the harp. Each village has a choir of trained singers, but everyone else joins in. Every year a new set of words is written and every village competes to make the best music to go along with it. The song that wins is sung during the next Christmas season by all the choirs and then is incorporated into the body of carols they sing from. This custom dates all the way back to the 10th century!

In rural areas where old traditions remain, the Christmas religious service is called Plygain. It lasts from 4AM until the rising of the sun Christmas morning. Carols are sung by everyone at this candlelit service. The service was very popular many, many years ago, but died out during the 19th century. Methodist chapels began reviving it more recently. 

Another tradition surviving in certain places is the "Christmas Swim". This is practiced by the hardy people of Porthcawl. With the first swim beginning in 1965 with only about 6 swimmers, the tradition has continued to grow a little more every year! Last year's swim had 47 people participating and they give the money raised to local charities. 

Taffy making is another fun and delicious Welsh tradition. They create a special kind of toffee from brown sugar and butter. Then it's boiled and pulled until it's glossy and lovely looking. Another food tradition for a Welsh Christmas is the Christmas goose. Wassail is part of a traditional Welsh Christmas as well. Everyone would drink from the Wassail bowl, an elaborately carved and many handled bowl. It was filled with fruit, sugar and spices and then topped with warm beer. The drinkers would pass the bowl around and make a wish for a year of successful farming and a good bumper crop. 

In many areas, a man is chosen to be the Mari Lwyd (Grey Mare). The Mari Lwyd leads a group of merry-makers in disguise as they travel through the town. He is covered in grey and white fabric and carries a horse skull covered with ribbons on a long pole. Anyone given a bite by the skull has to pay a fine. They travel around to predetermined houses where Mari Lwyd bangs loudly on the door and sings impromptu verses. The families eventually invite them in for cake and cider. 

Wales is another country with a very interesting old New Year's Eve tradition. Years ago, children would go around bearing an apple totem (See the above picture). The children carried their fruit totem and a cup of water from the well and would go to houses and sing songs to spread good luck or else splash the people with water. It seems like an ancient trick or treat! Whoever answered the door might give the children a Calennig (small gift) such as cake, coins or sweets. 

The last tradition of the Christmas season is that by the Twelfth Night (January 5th), all remaining Christmas greenery is taken down and the last of the Yule Log is removed from the fireplace. The ashes from the log or any remaining pieces of log are planted with spring crops to ensure fertility. 

I hope you all enjoyed today's lesson, I had fun with it and personally loved Wales when I visited there. So let me wish you all Nadolig Llawen and Blwyddyn Newydd Dda! (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!) 


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