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Page last updated at 16:43 GMT, Monday, 21 December 2009
Christmas holiday traditions in north west Wales

Beaumaris Hunt Ball at the Bulkeley
The street lined with people outside the Bulkeley, Beaumaris, Boxing Day 1882

Christmas isn't all about eating too much and watching films. Some people like singing carols at dawn, catching hot pennies or jumping in the sea on Boxing Day.

One of our oldest Christmas traditions which has enjoyed a recent revival in popularity is the Plygain, although these days, there's no need to get up quite so early to attend this service of old Welsh carols.

"It's a carol service which they would hold at between three and six in the morning on Christmas Day," explained Emma Lile, an historian at the Wales National History Museum (St Fagan).

"People would stay up late on Christmas Eve, eating toffee, playing the harp and decorating candles to carry on the candlelit walk to church, sometimes for over a mile through the snow."

Nowadays everyone is welcome to sing, but traditionally it was only small groups of men who would take part in a service which could go on for hours.

"It was a point of honour that the same carol couldn't be sung twice," said Emma. "Some carols would be passed down through families and most would tell the tale of Christ's life, from his birth to his crucifixion."

Such carols were passed via the oral tradition, so it is thanks to John Owen of Dwyran, Anglesey, who wrote down many of the songs in the 19th century, that they can still be sung today.

"We're indebted to him for collecting these carols from Llangeinwen church (Anglesey)," said Arfon Gwilym, himself an editor of a collection of old Plygain carols (Hen Garolau Cymru).

"As I wrote my book, I was entranced by these old carols which sounded totally different to modern ones."

Many Plygain services are still held in north Wales between Christmas and mid January, including in Llanfairpwll, Llanllyfni, Chwilog and in Bangor Cathedral.

"I think it's important people try to emulate the characteristics of the original Plygain, that they are open to everyone, and anyone is welcome to stand up and sing whenever they wish," said Arfon.

But whereas the Plygain was a service for everyone, it was the gentry who instigated a long-held Boxing Day tradition in Beaumaris.

"They would have the hunt ball every Boxing Day years ago," said the town's mayor, John Wyn Jones. "It was tradition that the queen of the hunt ball would throw hot pennies from the Bulkeley Hotel's balcony."

The Boxing Day dip was not a formal event, just a Christmas activity put on by the St George's Hotel
Martin Smith, Llandudno Lions

John remembers this event well. "We used to kick the pennies into the gutter and put our feet over them so no one else could get them. They were red hot, so you couldn't pick them up straight away. But in those days, three pennies meant a trip to the cinema."

A few years ago the tradition was revived - but the pennies weren't quite so scalding hot.

"The Bulkeley's chef comes out with his hat and whites on, carrying a tray of pennies he's warmed in the oven and the mayor and mayoress throw them over the balcony," said John.

One Boxing Day tradition which has its roots in the late 20th century is the urge to run into the freezing sea for charity.

Now in its fourth decade, the Llandudno Boxing Day Dip is firmly fixed on the town's Christmas calendar.

"It was an activity carried out by the then owners of the St George's Hotel during the late 70s," said Martin Smith, a member of the Llandudno Lions.

"The dip was not a formal event, just a Christmas activity put on by the hotel staff and guests."

Now more run by the Lions, the dip attracts locals in fancy dress who are willing to be sponsored to brave the Irish Sea in December.

"Only once has it been cancelled due to a very severe snow storm," said Martin, who confirmed that the dippers are still welcome to prepare and recover at the St George's.

There are also Boxing Day dips at Aberdaron, Criccieth and Holyhead, plus a revival of the tradition at Abergele. A New Year's Day dip is held at Morfa Nefyn.

Tell us about other Christmas and New Year traditions in Anglesey, Conwy or Gwynedd.

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In pictures: Boxing Day Dip
29 Dec 09 |  Things to do



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