While it might feel like the island’s Boxing Day tradition is staying in your pyjamas for the majority of the day, and then heading out to the pub, there are some more deep rooted traditions. We’ve decided to highlight some of the Manxest traditions in the Isle of Man.
Hunt the Wren
Perhaps the most famous of the Manx Boxing Day traditions, hunting the wren was once practiced across the British isles and parts of northern Europe, but has long died out, leaving only the IOM and parts of Northern Ireland to carry on the hunt. There has been somewhat of a revival of Hunt the Wren in parts of England, proving once again that the English just want to be us.
Hunt the Wren was first noted on-island in the 1720s, but it was already an age-old tradition. There’s a few folklore stories about the origins of the practice, including stories about a sea spirit that took the form of a wren and a wren that inadvertently awoke slumbering an enemy while pecking on a drum, but the most common story involves a witch called Tehi Tegi. Tehi was an enchantress whose beauty lured men on the island to harm (#relatable). After a significant number of men ended up drowning after following her across a river, the survivors of the ordeal decided to seek revenge- because obvs it was all her fault that the men followed her. Tehi, being a witch, changed into a wren, prompting a tradition of hunting the wren.
While Hunt the Wren is now a gentle affair with music, dancing and a replica wren on a stick, Hunting the Wren used to be a more violent affair. A report in 1816 noted that a wren was ‘pursued, pelted, fired at and destroyed, without mercy’- with the feathers of the birds believed to be lucky, especially for fishermen. It’s probably worth a note that the MSPCA wasn’t formed until 1897…
While the white boys might sound like some American far-right nationalist organisation, it’s actually (and thankfully) a mumming play performed around Christmas time. Excitingly, the play has no stable script (meaning it’s not going to get stale). There are, however, some common themes. There’s always saints, a fight, a death, a resurrection thanks to ‘the Doctor’ and a happy ending- so basically a night out in Ramsey. The play also features the ‘white boy’s carol’ and a ‘sword dance’.
Once the island’s number one sport (before the introduction of footie to the island about 100 years ago), the sport is now played, as tradition, in St John’s after Hunt the Wren, with the north of the island playing against the south. The sport is a bit like hurling and shinty, and looks like a cracking way to burn off the excessive consumption of mince pies.