Welsh festive phraseology

The the jolly man in the red suit known for delivering gifts at this time of year, has a variety of names; Father Christmas, Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas to name a few. In Welsh he's known as 'Siôn Corn' and 'Nadolig Llawen' is the joyful Welsh greeting used to wish someone a Merry Christmas.

If you're keen to meet the man himself, and perhaps pass on your wish list, you'll find plenty Christmas grottos in locations across Wales, including special festive events at Cadw sites and National Trust properties

Discover more events and days out in December.


Father Christmas sat iun a chair in front of a decorative fireplace with a decorated Christmas tree.

Santa's Grotto at Castell Coch, in Cardiff

Traditional 'Plygain' carol-singing

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. 

Canu Plygain - singing Plygain

The services can be witnessed in Llanerfyl, Powys, where the Plygain revival was started, or in St Silin's in Powys, and 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.

Toffee making

In some parts of Wales, when waiting for the Plygain service, it was customary to make a Cyflaith, or Cyfleth, Taffy or Toffee. Indeed, 'Noson Gyflaith' (toffee evening) was a fun-filled occasion in itself. After combining and boiling the ingredients - butter, sugar and treacle, the concoction was poured out onto a slate, or hearth stone, before being stretched. Each member of the family and friends invited to join the merriment, would grease their hands with butter and take a piece of the toffee to pull it into ropes.

Satisfy your sugar craving with a treat from one of the many chocolate shops and confectionery workshops in Wales. Choose a special gift box for a friend, see skilled chocolatiers at work, or book a lesson to learn how to make your own sweat treats.

Welsh gifts galore

Looking for gift inspiration? And what about cards, decorations and festive fare?

A wealth of Christmas markets take place at locations across the country in the lead up to the festive season. You'll find a wide variety of stalls offering locally produced, artisan crafts that are perfect for gifting.

Read more: Christmas shopping and Christmas markets in Wales.

There's also a feast of Welsh treats available from Welsh food and drink producers, to gift to others, or stock up your own kitchen cupboards. Take your pick from award winning Welsh wines, whisky and gins, or cheese and sweet treats.

Christmas market stalls at night and church in background.
A selection of cheeses.

Christmas market in Cardiff and a selection of Welsh cheeses.

If you're struggling to find the perfect present, how about giving the gift of a Welsh experience? Send your more adventurous friends and family on an exhilarating boat trip, or down the World's fastest zipline! Alternatively, treat them to a luxury spa treatment, afternoon tea, or for a tour and tasting at a Welsh vineyard or distillery. 

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! There has been a revival of the Welsh custom of the roaming Mari Lwyd (Grey Mare) in South Wales recently, so look out for the Fari on a journey between pubs during the months of December and January.

Re-enactments of the Mari can usually be seen in the village of Llangynwyd, near Bridgend, and a torch-lit procession in Llanwrtyd Wells takes place on New Year's Eve.

The Mari Lwyd (Grey Mare) is a well-known tradition in South Wales during the Christmas season.

Running into the New Year

How many of us wake up on New Year's day with a firm resolution to keep fit for a whole year? Many take the opportunity to start a day early, joining the New Year's Eve Nos Galan Road Races in Mountain Ash (Cynon Valley). The annual 5km challenge is to remember a local hero - the legendary Llwyncelyn runner, Guto Nyth Brân (1700-1737). It is said that he ran seven miles to Pontypridd before his mother's kettle boiled, but unfortunately he died as a result of 'one last race'. Guto was buried in Llanwynno Church cemetery, where a wreath is lit before the start of the contemporary race.

If running isn't your thing, but you're up for a challenge and feeling brrrrr-ave... you could opt to take part in one of the festive charity swims that take place all over Wales.


Runners at night.
swimmers running into water.

Runners at the Nos Galan race in Mountain Ash and Porthcawl Christmas Day Swim, Vale of Glamorgan, South Wales

New Year celebrations

For the children of Wales, or just the young at heart, there is a Welsh ritual to compete before midday every New Year's day (01 January). 'Hell Calennig', is the collection of calennig (New Year’s gift) children visit neighbours to sing greeting, with the songs varying from simple wishes to family verses. 'Blwyddyn Newydd Dda', a 'Happy New Year' is wished, in the hope of receiving a small gift of some kind - traditionally a decorated apple, pierced with three sticks and adorned with a sprig of box and hazelnuts, but in more modern times, usually money or sweets.

For one community in Pembrokeshire, the new year is marked in the middle of January. The residents of Cwm Gwaun, near Fishguard, celebrate 'Hen Galan' by singing from door to door and are given ‘Calennig’ on 13 January. In 1752, the Julian calendar was abolished and replaced by the Gregorian calendar, which had been approved by Pope Gregory XIII almost two centuries earlier. But the decision was rejected by the people of Cwm Gwaun, who still adhere to the old Iulaid calendar.

Blwyddyn Newydd dda i chi | A happy new year to you! No, we're not two weeks late, the inhabitants of Cwm Gwaun in...

Posted by Wales on Friday, January 13, 2023

Related stories