Evan Isaac : Making Toffee on Christmas Eve

A harmless and entertaining old custom was the Gweithio Cyffaith (Making Toffee) on Christmas Eve. A number of boys and girls would gather in a particular house late in the night. After everyone had arrived and the necessary ingredients had been collected together, a pot of medium size containing a considerable amount of treacle and sugar was put on the fire. When the mixture began to boil it had to be stirred with a special spoon and the stirring had to be continued without interruption in order to prevent a burnt taste. As the boiling proceeded someone stood nearby with a cup of cold water and every now and then would take a little of the mixture from the pot and put it into the cold water. When the concoction hardened in the water it was time to remove the pot from the fire. The contents were then poured out into a large dish, or on to a large clean slatestone, greased with butter. While the stuff was warm it was pulled and kneaded until it began to turn yellow and became ready to divide up. There was no happier time than the night we made the toffee. During the boiling we would tell stories and sing old songs, and there would be great fun into the small hours.

Until a few years ago the Plygain was held regularly in the parish church and sometimes in the chapels of other denominations. It was a religious gathering that took place before daybreak on Christmas morning to remember the coming of Jesus. There was a lot of singing, praying and thanksgiving as well as some sort of sermon or a short address. In the great days of the Plygain the singing of carols played an essential part but I never heard carols sung in a plygain or anywhere else. In my childhood there was no difference between a plygain and an ordinary prayer meeting. When I was a young fellow I went a few times to the plygain at Llancynfelyn Church, but no blessing came to us kids on that account because we went there after making toffee with pieces of the sweet mess in our pockets and we did little more in the church than eat and sleep!

From the book, Coelion Cymru (‘Welsh Traditions’) by Evan Isaac, published 1938.

Adaptation and translation from the Welsh: Wales Famine Forum.

Published in The Green Dragon No 5, Winter 1997.

Cymraeg / Welsh

Gaeilge / Irish

Christmas Box