We traditionally associate Christmas as a time of giving, where we spend cherished moments with our loved ones, while enjoying dinner parties and feasts. The day has origins deeply rooted in Christianity and the birth of Christ. But do Manxies celebrate the day any differently? Online and Education Resources Officer at Culture Vannin, James Franklin, spoke to us about a truly Manx Christmas.
Known as the ‘foolish fortnight’ this period runs approximately between 21 December- 6 January. You put all your tasks aside and fill your time with drinking beer spiced with pepper, partying, dancing, music and simply having fun. It’s also believed to be a time where young people get mischievous, and there have been historical reports of every barn across the island being filled with dancing every night in years gone way by. People are thought to have danced and partied all night long, sleeping off the consequences during the following day.
Hunt the Wren
Traditionally taking place on what is commonly known as Boxing day, as part of the Kegeesh Ommidjagh, Hunt the Wren sees communities come together to sing and dance around the streets. The practice dates back to pre-Christian times and focused on the ‘wren’ – the ‘king of all birds’ which is hunted and then danced through the streets on a special pole.
The White Boys
Have you ever heard of ‘The White Boys’? It’s a play performed on the Manx streets and outside pubs for money. Actors enact saints or knights who argue until fights break out, before they kill each other, but are brought back to life by a doctor.
Also known as ‘the white mare’ - individuals would hide under a bed sheet, using the skull of a horse to clack and spook people for ‘fun.’ The tradition took place at parties or in the pub, chasing people in a playful but terrifying act. The most common custom was to ignore it but if you paid any attention to it would clack to spark a reaction.
The Kissing Bush
Two hundred years ago, locals would use a ‘kissing bush’ instead of the Christmas tree we see in today’s households. The bush is similar to a wren pole, composed of two loops and covered holly, ivy and ribbons. It would then be suspended from midair and as the name suggests, would allow people (young and old) to kiss underneath it, similar how mistletoe works. The act would be another license for silliness and foolishness during the festive period.
The practice originally stems from a dish known in today’s world as ‘mashed potato.’ The making of the dish saw potatoes mashed up with a bit of milk and butter, and would be honoured as a coming together of the family and household. Turning the spoon would make an unusual sound known as the ‘tittle wack’ sound and during this act, one was believed to fall in love.
This was a religious church service that would take place on Christmas Eve where people walked up the center of the church singing carvels and carrying a candle. Carvels are songs closely similar to hymns, but longer and more dark in tone and often about damnation. After the Vicar completed his service, he would leave the Church to let people sing their own Manx carvels. Young women would get dried peas and throw them at people who they fancied, with the carvels used to heckle silly old men. Lovers were allowed to walk home together and could stay up throughout the night in their parent’s household.
Have you heard about any of these traditions before? We’d love to hear if you know any more, emails [email protected].