THIS month’s Welsh Books Council Book of the Month is written by a Welshpool man who has spent much of the past 10 years studying Armenian history, culture and religion.
But for this book Patrick Thomas has returned home to Wales to look at his homeland traditions and fulfills a promise to entertain, teach and bring a few laughs.
“Carols Before Dawn” takes readers from a humble communion in the Carmarthenshire village of Brechfa Church to a seasonal adventure through the sacred sites of the Holy Land.
“Welsh Christmas (at least for those of us who have spent our lives serving in old-fashioned, bilingual parishes) is sometimes quite different from Christmas elsewhere,” says Canon Thomas whose grandfather was originally from Llansilin, moved to Buttington where he built Maes Hafren on the banks of the river Severn and established the first garage in Welshpool.
Patrick lived at Maes Hafren but the family moved to Derbyshire when he was seven-years-old and it would be many years before he moved back to Wales with his wife Helen, settling into life as a priest.
That involved the demanding Christmas schedules that followed Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve with a 6am traditional plygain service (the carols before dawn of the title) and other morning services on Christmas Day itself.
His experiences are used to help provide a mass of anecdotes and facts about Christmas in Wales from the plygain traditional to the crib and includes a short story, poetry, hymns and carols, and even an entire nativity play script, with a special mention for Llandovery’s vicar Rhys Pritchard, the man who saved the Welsh Christmas from the dour Puritan zeal in the 17th century.
It’s a seasonal treasury of gems from the past that help shape events and even attitudes towards how we celebrate Christmas in Wales today.
The author of several books, Dr Thomas is Canon Chancellor of St David’s Cathedral, vicar of Christ Church, Carmarthen, a member of the Anglican Oriental Orthodox International Commission, and, in 2013, he was designated Honorary Pastor to Armenians in Wales.
Royalties from this book go to Ty’r Pererin, the centre for education and pilgrimage at St David’s Cathedral.