Y NADOLIG (Christmas):
The custom in many parts of Wales was to attend a very early church service known as “Plygain” (daybreak), Men gathered in rural churches to sing, mainly unaccompanied, three or four part harmony carols in a service that went on for three hours or so. The custom managed to survive in many country areas, and because of its simplicity and beauty is being revived in many others. After the service, a day of feasting and drinking would begin.
GWYL SAN STEFFAN (St. Stephens Day; Boxing Day – December 26th):
The day after Christmas Day was celebrated in a way unique to Wales and included the tradition of “holly-beating” or “holming.” Young men and boys would beat the unprotected arms of young females with holly branches until they bled. In some areas it was the legs that were beaten. In others, it was the custom for the last person to get out of bed in the morning to be beaten with sprigs of holly. These customs died out before the end of the 19th century, thankfully!
NOS GALAN (New Years Eve):
In England in many places it still is the custom that a dark haired man should let in the New Year for good luck. The man leaves the house by the back door just before midnight on New Years Eve, walks around and on the strike of midnight, knocks on the front door. The householder opens the door, and receives from the man the following gifts: salt for seasoning, silver for wealth, coal for warmth, a match for kindling and bread for sustenance. In Wales the custom of letting in the New Year was slightly different in that if the first visitor in the New Year was a woman and the male householder opened the door, that was bad luck. If the first man to cross the threshold in the New Year was a red haired man, that was also bad luck.
Some other Welsh customs associated with the New Year were: “all existing debts were to be paid”; never lend anything to anyone on New Years Day else you would have bad luck; and the behaviour of an individual on this day was an indication of how they would behave all year!
The most popular New Year’s custom was one that was carried out in all parts of Wales: the Calennig (small gift). On January 1st from dawn until noon, groups of young boys would visit all the houses in the village carrying evergreen twigs and a cup of cold water drawn from the local well. The boys would then use the twigs to splash people with water. In return, they would receive the Calennig, usually in the form of copper coins. The custom, in various forms, survived in some areas well after World War II, at least in the form of the chanting of a small verse or two in exchange for small coins.
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