Published: 17-03-2010, 18:23


The Plygain is a Welsh carol service originally held early on Christmas morning (see also CHRISTMAS IN WALES). The Welsh word “Plygain” comes from the Latin phrase pulli cantus, which means “cockcrow song.” Originally the service was scheduled for three a.m. to coincide with the crowing of the first rooster on Christmas morning (see also MISA DE GALLO).
The Plygain seems to have evolved from the Roman Catholic MIDNIGHT MASS on Christmas Eve. During the Reformation religious authorities throughout Great Britain eliminated many Roman Catholic customs (see also PURITANS). Nevertheless, Welsh historical records indicate that early morning Christmas services, called Plygains, were still being held in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. These services, conducted by candlelight, included prayers, Christmas Carols, and the occasional sermon. A widespread custom required each person who attended to bring a candle to help illuminate the dark church. Often the entire population of the parish attended, regardless of religious affiliation. In some places the people processed to the church with lighted candles or torches. Sometimes young people would stay up all night on Christmas Eve rather than get up early in the morning. They often passed the middle of the night at a local farmhouse singing, dancing, and amusing themselves.
The Plygain began to die out in the twentieth century. One researcher claims that it was discontinued because of the increasingly unruly behavior of those who chose to attend. In the few places in which the service survived, the inconvenient starting time of three a.m. shifted forward towards the morning or backwards towards the previous evening. Eventually, even the date of the service was changed. Today the Plygain takes place in only a few locales and may be scheduled anytime between mid-December and early January. It consists entirely of unaccompanied carol singing and no longer retains any element of religious observance.