Welsh Christmas Traditions: How to Enjoy Them in North Wales

Wales has a rich history of unique winter and Christmas traditions, stemming from old pagan, Celtic and Christian customs. From Mari Lwyd in South Wales to Wassailing across the region, many of these customs have experienced a folk resurgence, being performed in cities, towns and villages across the country. Together, these traditions make fantastic wintry days and nights out in North Wales for locals and visitors alike.

1. Toffee Making
It has been a long tradition for northern Welsh households to make toffee (or taffy) on Christmas Eve (on Noson Gyflaith/toffee evening), whilst men gathered in rural churches to practice Plygain, a tradition of carol singing. Although the latter practice has largely waned, toffee can be enjoyed throughout the Christmas season in Christmas markets, farm shops, delicatessens and sweet shops. Welsh toffee is soft, creamy and chewy because of the way it is traditionally boiled and then pulled. If you find yourself in Conwyn, visit the Bodnant Farm Shop for delicious toffees and other Welsh delicacies this Christmas season.

2. Carol Singing
As part of a Plygain service popular throughout rural north Wales in the Victorian era, people sang carols between 3 and 6 am on Christmas morning. Although you can still find this beautiful tradition in areas of Wales where it is now usually practiced as an evening carol service, you can also enjoy harmonious choirs performed throughout December, with carols by candle light services including a popular rendition at Castle Square Presbyterian Church, Caernarfon (2nd December). Other great services include Powis Castle’s annual carols on 5th December.

3. Wassail
Wassail is a hot mulled cider from Anglo-Saxon times, commonly drank during Medieval Christmastide. In Wales, you can enjoy a number of more modern versions of this wintry drink, spruced up with fruit, sugar and spices throughout the season. Traditionally, wassailing involves going door to door singing and sharing the wassail, making wishes for good harvests for the coming year. Wassailing is popular in the West Country and has been revived in Conwyn, but you can enjoy a wassail (or mulled cider) in Christmas markets and pubs throughout north Wales.

4. Holly and Mistletoe Decorations
Winter’s the time for holly and mistletoe in Wales, where the mistletoe has a long sacred history of reverence by the Druids. Mistletoe is supposed to guard a family from evil when placed upon the house, where holly is a symbol of eternal life. Nowadays you can find beautiful holly and mistletoe decorations in places like Bodnant Garden, Conwyn.

5. Father Christmas
No list of Christmas traditions would be complete without mention of the eponymous Father Christmas (or Santa). If you’re visiting north Wales with little ones, you can consider visiting Penrhyn Castle, Plas yn Rhiw, Chrik Castle, Erddig or Powis Castle, each having fantastic Christmas displays as well as appearances from Father Christmas, his elves and a sack of presents.

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