Welsh Christmas And New Year Traditions
There are some great Welsh Christmas and New Year traditions. The ‘Mari Llwyd’ involves walking around the village with a horse’s skull on your head chanting rhymes. Another ancient custom, holming, ensured that the last one out of bed on Boxing Day was beaten with the prickles of a holly branch. A bit too ‘off the wall’ for our family if I’m honest. But here are some gentler traditions that you might want to adopt in your home this Christmas.
NOSON GYFLAITH / TOFFE NIGHT
In days gone by, Christmas Eve was known to many as Noson Gyflaith or toffee evening. Friends and family would gather for a celebratory meal, followed by singing, games and the making of the Christmas taffy (toffee).
The base of all toffee follows a simple recipe of boiled sugar, water and butter but it’s the pulling of the toffee into long strands that makes taffy chewier and creamier than its English counterpart. The pulling of the taffy was considered a traditional skill and to make it more special on Christmas Eve, it was thought that the strands pulled on that night would form the initial of your true love.
To make taffy, you will need:
A large heavy saucepan
A baking tray greased with butter
650g soft brown sugar
110g Welsh salted butter
the juice of half a lemon
Dissolve the sugar in the water, over a low heat, and then add the lemon and the butter. Boil for about 15 minutes until a small piece dropped into a cup of cold water hardens immediately. Tip from the pan onto the buttered tray and work it back and forth with a palette knife until cool enough to handle. Using buttered hands, pull the taffy into long golden strands and either form into shapes or cut into smaller pieces.
THE WASSAIL BOWL
The predecessor to mulled wine, this tradition was very prevalent in Wales at the turn of the century. Elaborate bowls were filled with fruit, sugar, spices and topped up with warm beer. As it was passed around, the drinkers would make a wish for a successful year’s farming and a bumper crop at harvest time.
This recipe dates back to 1722 and serves 12:
4 x 1 pint/500ml bottles of beer
1 lb/450g dark brown raw sugar
Sprinkle of ginger, preferably freshly grated
4 glasses sweetish sherry
3 slices lemon
3 triangles of toasted bread spread with cinnamon, if required
Lemon quarters to garnish
Pour two bottles of the beer into a casserole dish and warm. Add the sugar, stirring over the heat to dissolve. Grate the nutmeg into the mixture and add the ginger. Pour in the sherry and the rest of the beer, then the lemon.
Adjust the flavour with more sugar if desired. Float the toast triangles on top and serve garnished with lemon quarters.
This tradition was very important in the Welsh calendar. On New Years day, children would go around all the farms and houses before midday singing a verse in exchange for some ‘calennig’ (money). With them, they would carry a ‘perllan’ which was an apple with three pieces of wood stuck in the bottom and then decorated with almonds and cloves. This would then be either put on the mantle piece at home or given as a gift for good luck.
Today, the exchange of gifts and money with family and friends still happens. To make your own perllan, stick three short sticks (the length of a lollipop stick) into the bottom of an apple, as if they were stool legs. Now stick cloves, almonds, corn ears, etc all around the apple (as you would a Christingle) with a sprig of holly and a candle in the top.