Wales – A European Christmas Story

Christmas time in Wales is quite similar to Christmas in the rest of the UK. In Wales it is traditional for people to decorate their homes with mistletoe which protects people from evil and holly which symbolises eternal life.

In Wale Christmas is called Y NADOLIG and Boxing Day is called GWYL SAN STEFFAN. During the 18th and 19th centuries it was traditional in certain places of Wales to attend Mass on Christmas Day between 3am and 6am and this was known as Plygain. It was also traditional to make toffee on Christmas Eve whilst telling stories and playing games. In some places these traditions continue.

For over 50 years there has been a tradition in Wales of a Christmas Day swim where people brace the cold and swim outdoors in particularly at Tenby’s North Beach and Cefn Sidan in Pembrey. 

Another tradition in Wales is that children will hand out Calenigg when they are carol singing in return for money or sweets. Calenigg is an apple with almonds stuck on with sticks and it is supposed to bring the person receiving it good luck. 

Like the rest of the UK people in Wales celebrate with Christmas decorations and will put up Christmas Trees during December. People will also hang up Christmas stockings that are left out on Christmas Eve in hope that Santa Claus will fill them with presents.

A personal story:

By Michael Evers

I am 50 years old. I live in Mirfield nowadays and I work as an ESOL tutor for Kirklees College (Dewsbury).  I grew up in Wales and I’m going to write about my memories of Christmas in  the Cynon Valley.  I lived in a village called Cwmbach, which is near the town of Aberdare. Christmas in Welsh is called Nadolig.

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

Christmas dinner in Wales is more or less the same as that in England.  The main meal is usually roast turkey, which may be accompanied by other meats such as roast beef.  The meal also includes pigs in blankets, which are sausages wrapped in bacon, stuffing, roast potatoes and parsnips, carrots, peas, broccoli, and other vegetables too! In Wales traditional roast goose is sometimes served instead of turkey.

For dessert we usually have a Christmas pudding, which is made with treacle, suet, spices and sultanas. It’s very sweet and rich.  There are usually other desserts available if a person prefers to eat something else. Or maybe eat it as well as the pudding! The whole meal is a huge feast and people are expected to overload on calories and fill their tummies.

My family usually sits down for the dinner at about 2.00pm.  Like elsewhere in the UK, we pull crackers, wear the paper crowns from the crackers and tell each other the awful jokes inside. Adults usually drink sparkling wine or other tipples of choice during the meal. Some family members might choose to watch the Queen’s Speech at 3.00pm.  When I was a boy, my dad nearly always fell asleep on his chair later in the afternoon.

Boxing Day (St Stephen’s Day) is also an important day. For my family, like many others around the UK, it’s a time to visit other family members. I have lots of happy memories of my extended family coming round, eating more Christmas food, drinking their favourite drinks and playing party games.

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

I lived in Wales during the late 1970s and most of the 1980s.  When I was 8 years old I received a Scalextric set (electric model racing cars).  It came in a huge box and I was so excited when I opened it and played it with Dad.

Welsh people love singing, and Wales is known as the land of song. Unsurprisingly, carol singing is very popular and I remember going round people’s houses in my neighbourhood and singing outside their doors.  If they liked our singing, they usually gave us some money or a gift.  Or maybe they just gave us money to stop us singing!  It was usually cold, so we were wrapped up in warm clothes and usually carried a candle in a jar.

My mum comes from a town called Mountain Ash, which is about 4 miles from Cwmbach.  New Year’s Eve (Nos Galan) in Mountain Ash is quite special.  An annual running race takes place to celebrate the memory of a famous Welsh runner called Guto Nyth Bran, who lived about 300 years ago. The race starts on the mountain at Llanwynno church, where Guto is buried, and continues in the town centre. It is a well-known event in Wales and is sometimes shown on the TV.  My aunty lives nearby and I quite often spent Nos Galan in Mountain Ash.

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

Unlike when I was a boy, I would say that I am not easy to buy presents for nowadays.  I often receive things like clothes and books. My wife might buy me something electronic like a mobile phone or camera. My mum still sees me as her little boy and buys me things like chocolate and funny knick-knacks.

That’s about it. Thanks for reading.

Nadolig Llawen!


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