Christmas in Wales and old Christmas customs

Published: Friday 13th Dec 2013

Written by: The Wales Cottage Holidays Team

Wales Cottage Holidays self-catering visitors, whether to Snowdonia, Anglesey & Lleyn Peninsula or to Pembrokeshire & West Wales cottages, will find that Christmas in Wales is spent pretty much as it is in other parts of the UK. However, some ancient traditional Welsh customs still exist.

The Calennig sometimes made an appearance at Christmas or New Year's Day. It’s actually a small decoration with a great history, the custom possibly dating back to pagan times. An apple (or perhaps an orange) was supported on a tripod of twigs and studded with cloves with a sprig of box hedge inserted at the top. More recently, the Calennig might be decorated with gold foil and studded with raisins to appear as though they grew from the sprig. The Calennig was held to be a token of good crops in the coming year and would be displayed in the home or perhaps delivered to friends as a symbolic gift.

Perhaps not always as welcome, the Mari Llwyd (sometimes translated as Venerable Mary) involved a horse’s skull arranged on a pole so that the jaws could be opened and shut by the bearer, who was covered by a white sheet draped from the skull. Brightly coloured streamers would adorn the horse’s head. Joined by a group of local men, the ‘horse’ then called at houses in the village. The Mari Llwyd would challenge the householder to compete with him in singing and rhymes and, if deemed superior in skill and humour, the group would expect to be invited in to partake of Christmas cheer! As might be expected, not all households relished the company of a boisterous group dancing about with a horse's skull on a pole and the tradition began to be abandoned towards the end of the 19th century. However, it is still practised at Llanwrtyd Wells, in Mid Wales & the Brecon Beacons. The Mari Llwyd & New Year Walk In is a torchlight walk from the square in Llanwrtyd Wells, meeting at 10.30pm on 31 December and returning for midnight celebrations to welcome in the New Year and give the old one a traditional send off. There will be a re-enactment of Mari Llwyd, going from house to house in the hope of being rewarded with food and drink! Click on Christmas Cottages for Christmas and New Year availability.

The Wales Cottage Holidays Team
The Wales Cottage Holidays Team



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