In Wales too they had their own lovely traditions and perhaps the one still most often talked about is the plygain (plug–ine with ine as in mine).
The roots of the plygain go way back, before the Reformation, when they would have the first Mass of Christmas long before daybreak. When the new faith came in the Mass disappeared but the people just carried on celebrating Christmas in the very early hours.
The true traditional plygain is hardly found anywhere now but the custom was still very much alive in the nineteenth century. Not long after midnight on Christmas Eve the people would be up and about. The children would be making a special kind of sweets from treacle and sugar. The adults would be preparing candles and candlesticks and practising the carols they were going to sing, especially if one of the family had written a new carol for the plygain, something that would often happen in those days.
It is said that in those days every living creature in Wales except the hens and the rich had to walk and sometimes they would have to travel on foot for up to three hours. So the family might well have to begin their trek between three and four o’clock in the morning, the adults with lanterns and the children tagging along somehow, their pockets laden with the ’sweets’ they had already made for themselves.
In the church itself there would be a splendid welcome for the Baby of Bethlehem, a sermon, and of course the people would be all ears when a new carol was sung. It was during a remote ’plygain’ of this kind in Sir Feirionydd (Merionethshire) in or about 1830 that the people heard the new carol that had been composed by local poet David Hughes: Ar Gyfer Heddiw’r Bore.
This carol impressed those who heard it in that rural church long ago and it impressed the people of the whole country after that.
Of course it is no Silent Night (a carol that was composed about the same time). It is longer, it is more biblical, it has a particular emphasis on the Old Testament, it reminds us that the Child is destined to die on Calvary and that, as a consequence, forgiveness for sinnners is there for the asking.
It is sung to a Welsh folk tune, Mentr Gwen.
Ar Gyfer Heddiw’r Bore in Welsh.
Ar Gyfer Heddiw’r Bore in English.
Ar Gyfer Heddiw’r Bore in Irish.