Alternative Christmas & New Year ideas 

Grey mares, races and ribbons – explore Wales’ more curious Christmas and New Year traditions and get ideas for a whimsical and alternative way of celebrating the festive season and New Year.

  • Mari Lwyd entering a bar as part of Christmas celebrations in Llantrisant
    Mari Lwyd, Llantrisant, South Wales Valleys by Paul Seligman

    Who’s that at the door? If you think a ‘ghost horse’ covered in bells in ribbons sounds scary, you’d be right! The ancient Welsh custom of the roaming Mari Lwyd (Grey Mare) is being revived across Wales. 

    Re-enactments of the Mari can usually be seen in the village of Llangynwyd, near Bridgend. Llanwrtyd Wells' torch lit procession takes place on New Years Eve at 10.30pm.

  • The early (ish) bird

    Group singing and performing 'Plygain' or carol singing
    Plygain in Llantrisant, South Wales Valleys by Paul Seligman

    Children are notoriously early risers at Christmas but in Wales we like to go one further – traditional ‘Plygain’ carol-singing service started anywhere between 3-6am. The event consists of parties of carol singers taking turns to sing Christmas songs, usually unaccompanied and in close harmony. 

    The services can be witnessed in Llanerfyl, Powys where the Plygain revival was started or in parishes of St Silin’s in Powys, the Parish of Llandeilo Fawr, Maesteilo and Taliaris in Carmarthenshire. Fortunately, you may not need to get up as early as 3am, many modern events now take place in the early evening! 

  • Wassailing on the Wye

    Group of wassailers in Chepstow
    Wassailers in Chepstow, Wye Valley by Paul Johnson

    The ribbon-clad Chepstow ‘Widders’ group revive the traditions of the Mari Lwyd, the Wassail and the meeting of the English and the Welsh on the old Wye bridge, in a day of song and dance each December. 

    Witness the curious riot of colour (and noise!) as the group lead Wassailing celebrations, Mumming performances and Mari Lwyd mischief.  You could also huddle in the local Chepstow pubs in between events, to warm up and partake in a cup of cider or two with a hot pie.  Perfect.

  • Kick up the sawdust

    The Irish might call it a Ceilidh, the Americans call it a barn dance - we call it a ‘Twmpath’. Either way it’s a lively party that can take place in barns, halls, pubs or even living rooms, to the soundtrack of traditional Welsh music.  Anyone can take part, but if you fancy dusting off your dancing shoes, you’d better make them comfortable ones!  

    Find out more about local events to see some of Wales' finest Twmpath performers this Christmas and New Year.

  • The gravestone of Guto Nyth Brân (Griffith Morgan)

    The grave of Guto Nyth Brân (Griffith Morgan)

     by Rhodri ap Hywel

    Ever hear the tale of the man who ran 7 miles before the kettle boiled and caught birds mid-flight? The magic of Guto Nyth Bran lives on in Mountain Ash (Cynon valley) and is celebrated in its annual New Year’s Eve event – the ‘Nos Galan Road Races’. The race invites participants to run in road races and re-live Guto’s legendary athletic prowess.  Up for the challenge?

Woman making traditional toffee for a group of children and parents

If you’re worn out after all that, you could always concoct your own Wassail punch or even hold your own ‘Noson Gyflaith’ (Toffee evening), which traditionally took place as part of Christmas and New Year Festivities in Wales. Just mind your teeth on the toffee!