taking our culture forward

The traditionally foolish Manx Christmas

Thu, 19 Dec 2019

In the final in our series of articles about Manx folklore and calendar customs, this piece looks at the Kegeesh Ommidjagh, the 'foolish fortnight' around around Christmas where all work was put aside and dancing, drinking and having fun took its place... This was recently published in the Manx Independent:


The traditionally foolish Manx Christmas

If you see Manx youths worse for wear with Christmas merriment, perhaps they are just keeping up Manx tradition...

Before the Victorians reformed it into a time of piety and morality, Christmas was about relaxing and letting go. In the Isle of Man it brought the Kegeesh Ommidjagh – the foolish fortnight.

All work stopped on 21 December – Oie’l Thomase Doo – and the partying began.

"There is not a barn unoccupied the whole twelve days” we learn from 1731, with dances happening all over the Island, where young men and women would sneak out to the hedgerows so they could better enjoy their ‘close celebrations of the festival’!

This was also the time for the White Boys. This 200-or-so year old play about saints killing each other before being resurrected to sing and dance is on the streets again this year. These days the collections go to charity, rather than to the players’ beer fund!

More anarchic entertainment was provided by the mollag bands. Groups of young lads roamed the towns making 'a rare din' singing, dancing and playing homemade instruments, carrying mollags – inflated sheep's bladders – with which they hit anyone who got too close. The aim was to make money, but they were perhaps hounding it out of people more than receiving willing donations!

In the home, the Kissing Bush hung from the rafters – the hoop of decorated holly and ivy gave you the licence to kiss anyone under it.

In church was the Oie’ll Verree service which took place on Christmas Eve. Here the singing of carols was accompanied by young women throwing peas at young men.

After the service came a trip to the pub for ale spiced with pepper before the young men walked the women home and were sometimes invited in as the parents slept above…

On 26 December came Hunt the Wren – more music and dancing! – and then the Kegeesh Ommidjagh was rounded off on 6 January, Twelfth Night, with two of the most strange customs of all.

Amidst the final drinking and dancing there was the Cutting off the Fiddler’s Head, where the fiddler lay his head on a woman’s lap and made prophesies of who would pair with whom over the coming year.

But these festivities were interrupted by the Laare Vane – a person hidden under a sheet controlling a horse’s head. This ‘White Mare’ would go around attacking people snapping its jaws until it was chased from the room.

There has long been an honourable tradition of a foolish Christmas in the Isle of Man, and so we wish you one too this year!

Nollick ghennal as blein vie noa!


The article is available to be enjoyed on the Isle of Man Newspapers' website.
More about the folklore and customs of the Isle of Man can be found amongst our Manx Year pages.