Alternative Welsh Christmas & New Year traditions

Woman making traditional toffee for a group of children and parents

Noson Gyflaith toffee making in St Fagans, Cardiff
There are grey mares, races and ribbons galore when you explore Wales’ more curious Christmas and New Year traditions! Get ideas for a whimsical and alternative way of celebrating the festive season and New Year with our guide to what’s on in alternative  Wales over the festive period.

Beware the Grey Mare

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

Children are notoriously early risers at Christmas, but in Wales we like to go one further. Traditional ‘Plygain’ carol-singing services start 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, as many modern events now take place in the early evening.

Wassailing on the Wye

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. 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!  

You can find out where various events are taking place on Wales’ folk development organisation tracs website.

Run, run (Rudolph)

Ever hear the tale of the man who ran seven 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 relive Guto’s legendary athletic prowess. Up for the challenge?

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 was once a part of Christmas and New Year festivities in Wales. Just mind your teeth on the toffee!