Singing Carols at Christmas in Wales Long Ago.



Around Christmas the young people of Llanrwst would be talking about a kind of singing that I never experienced myself even though today I take an interest in the melodies and in the words that were sung—singing carols.

A day or two before Christmas 1871, I said to my mother: "Sam Robaits and John Pugh, and more besides, are going to the Plygain early on Christmas morning to sing carols. May I go with them?" "You may not." was the uncompromising reply. "Why?" I asked again. "Because you are safer in your bed," she said, "and that is quite enough." "They’ll be singing carols there, Mam, and they’re alright." "O, they are, but I know that there will be other things going on apart from singing; it will be better for you to be at home."

And that is why I have never been to a plygain. Thinking about it, I realised that what the boys were talking about was not the singing, still less the worship, but the fun that could be had with some of the girls on the way—in the dark—to Llanddoged and back.

But most of the older people took the task of singing and remembering the Nativity very seriously. Local rhymesters, as well as some sextons and parsons, would compose new carols for every Christmas; soloists and groups of singers would learn them and as often as not there would be intense rivalry between the singers. I heard my father say that some churches would engage carol singers from other neighbourhoods and pay them for their services.

Although the sexton would be responsible for candles, some of the singers would bring their own in order to have enough light to see the copied scripts from which they would be singing and then, to hold the candles, they would make sure that they brought enough clay to use instead of candlesticks.

J. Lloyd Williams (1854‑1945), ’ Atgofion Tri Chwarter Canrif (’Memories of Three Quarters of a Century’).
Found in the collection, Y Flwyddyn yng Nghymru (’The Year in Wales’), Cardiff, University of Wales Press, 1943
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Note:
Plygain (say ’Plug‑gine’ —it rhymes with ’pine’) was a service held very early on Christmas morning. It seems to have largely died out before the First World War.
It is believed to have had its origin before the Reformation in the first Mass of Christmas Day which was said before dawn.
The word ’plygain’ is supposed to have come from the Latin for ’cock’s crow’, pullicantus.

Cymraeg / Welsh

Gaeilge / Irish

Christmas Box

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