What is your favourite Christmas tradition? What makes it feel like Christmas more than anything else for you? Customs do change and evolve down the generations but how about indulging in some festive traditions that were popular in Wales hundreds of years ago and can still be enjoyed today!
Why not start off with some good old fashioned wassailing?? None of those dainty glasses of mulled wine; instead grab yourself the biggest bowl possible, fill it with fruit, spice and warm beer and invite all your friends around to celebrate the festive season. Authentic wassail bowls have many handles so they could be passed round and everybody could take a sup and make a wish for the coming year. The beverage of choice may have changed but I am glad that the tradition of gathering together to make merry at Christmas time hasn’t altered that much!
If warm beer with fruit is not your thing, try your hand at making toffee. In the long winter night before Christmas truly began many Welsh families would make the sweet treat in big pans on their range before dropping the hot toffee into iced water which would curl the dollops of toffee into all sorts of interesting shapes. I am sure the sugary luxury would be appreciated if you were heading out in the early hours to the Plygain service.
The traditional church service of Plygain (daybreak) involved the rural communities meeting between 3am and 6am to sing unaccompanied hymns in three or four part harmonies to welcome in Christmas morning. This beautiful tradition has continued to today, although in most places the services are no longer at 3 in the morning! Most churches will hold a carols by candlelight service of simply sung carols interspersed with readings and I believe this is an extension of this charming, simple idea. A parish near me, is holding a Plygain style service in the second week of January as a reflection on the weeks just gone and to bring in the New Year.
It is often easy to see where our modern British traditions today stem from but there are some customs that I for one am glad have not passed the test of time. Boxing day in Wales was once marked by the practice of young males beating the arms or legs of young females, or the last person out of bed, with holly until they made them bleed. In all areas of Wales this seemed to have died out before the end of the C19th which can only be a good thing!
One New Year tradition however that little boys might be interested in resurrecting was that of Calennig (meaning small gift). On New Year’s day the boys of the village, carrying evergreen twigs and a cup of water from the well, would visit all the houses and splash the residents in return for a few coins. The water splashing evolved into verse recitation but it was known for this to still be going on in some areas after World War II.
Personally I love a good nativity service and if I get to sing some of my favourite carols all the better! O little town of Bethlehem…..
Time for a sneaky Christmas getaway?
These days it feels like we are bombarded with Christmas from as soon as the kids go back to school in September and with all the Black Friday shenanigans the shine seems to have dulled on the festive season for me this year. It doesn’t help that I am rather disorganised and can feel the stress starting to build. What I really need to do is just relax and think about the Christmas my family wants and not worry about what everyone else thinks I should be doing.
I would love to go away for a few days, the four of us, and spend time together talking, walking, maybe discovering a new favourite place and making memories. When I am booking people in for their Christmas holiday breaks I do feel a bit jealous Next year I am determined to make this happen for us.
Now, I don’t want to sound like a Grinch. I love Christmas and the traditions so important to me – lighting the advent candles at Church as the countdown begins, nativity services, endeavouring to buy gifts that will be appreciated by loved ones. It’s so easy though to get lost in the over-excessiveness that seems to have taken over and going back to basics can seem a very scary idea. I love the John Grisham novel ‘Skipping Christmas’ (made into the film Christmas with the Kranks – not nearly as good as the book in my opinion) and whereas I would never want to disregard Christmas entirely the book does bring home the weight of silly expectations we put on ourselves and that sometimes we need to take a step back and figure out what really matters.
When you stop and think though, what could be better than just you and your closest family or friends spending a long weekend, away from the pressures of the many Christmas parties, nights out, manic card writing and all that food. If you want to, you can get away from Christmas all together – there is not much opportunity for Christmas shopping in an isolated country cottage half way up a mountain! – and enjoy the crisp wintry landscape, clean air and maybe even some pristine snow.
Of course, such drastic measures may not be for you, or me if I’m honest at this time of year, but a cosy cottage a little bit out of the way where you can unwind and recharge sounds just the ticket to me. Curl up and read the book you have been waiting to get to or cwtch up with your favourite person in front of a cosy fire. We do still have some lovely cottages left for the days leading up to Christmas, the holidays themselves, or even into January if you need some time to recovery from the festivities.
What Christmas traditions are dear to you and which ones could you quite easily never want to be involved with again? Whatever you do, take deep breaths, stay calm and I hope you enjoy yourself!