The Plygain is a Welsh carol service originally held early on Christmas morning (see also Wales, Christmas in). 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.

Further Reading

Hole, Christina. British Folk Customs. London, England: Hutchinson and Company, 1976. Hutton, Ronald. The Stations of the Sun. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Encyclopedia of Christmas and New Year's Celebrations, 2nd ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2003
References in periodicals archive ?
A Welsh "plygain" choral service is something you hear during the festive season, but one was specially arranged for the prince when he visited Mallwyd Church, Machynlleth.
He will also visit Mallwyd Church in Machynlleth to listen to a traditional Welsh Plygain choral service.
Plygain is a traditional Welsh Christmas service which takes place in a church between three and six o'clock in the morning, traditionally on Christmas morning ("Christmas customs: 'Plygain' Singing," National Museum Wales).
You'll find logs on the fire, carols in the chapel, traditional Welsh Plygain singing in the church and a brass band on Gwalia Green.
Apart from the broadside sources recognized by Palmer, for texts resembling these we might look to the plygain carols of neighbouring Wales or even the carvals of the Isle of Man.
There will also be a unique opportunity to hear early Plygain carols sung in the museum's newly-restored medieval St Teilo's Church.
Mae wythnos gyntaf blwyddyn newydd yn golygu y bydd y traddodiad o ganu plygain yn cael sylw gennym ni ac mi fyddwn yn sain y canu mawl yn Abergele eleni.
Another old Christmas tradition still around to this day, is that of Plygain, a Christmas morning carol service in church.
Having said that, I don't know if I'd be able to fit in their practice sessions as I already sing with one community choir (Cr y Dyffryn, based in the Ogwen valley), Y Boncathod (a group of friends who sing traditional Welsh folk songs a cappella), and a church group from St Mary's Church in Llanfairpwll, who firstly came together to sing at traditional plygain services.
Weekends, in the run up to Christmas, also feature making Christmas favours and Plygain singing in the Manor.
| Track 4: Triawd Fronheulog - Ar Gyfer Heddiw'r Bore (chosen by singer Arfon Gwilym) Wales' folk songs range from 'maytime' and 'plygain' carols to love songs, work songs to ballads.
Beth wyt ti''n da yma?" Roedd o wedi dod yr holl ffordd o Sir Benfro, gyda dau arall, i gymryd rhan yn y Plygain.