It’s NOT Halloween, it’s Hop-tu-Naa on the Isle of Man

Oct 29, 2013 by

On the Isle of Man, October 31st is celebrated as Hop-tu-Naa, an ancient Manx tradition that predates Halloween. As with Samhain, hop-tu-naa marks the end of the harvest season, the onset of the cold, dark days of winter, and the start of a new year.

Manx Hop-tu-Naa Turnip Lanterns http://tinyurl.com/mpg3bnx

Manx Hop-tu-Naa Turnip Lanterns http://tinyurl.com/mpg3bnx

This is old Sauin night; Hop-tu-naa
The moon shines bright; Trol-la-laa…


Shoh shenn oie Houiney
T’an eayst soilshean; Trol-la-laa…

from The Hop-Tu-Naa Song

The name “Hop-tu-Naa” (pronounced hop two nay) is a derivation of the Manx Gaelic phrase  “Shogh ta’n Oie”, meaning “this is the night”.  Like Hogmanay in Scotland, hop-tu-naa is a Celtic festival in honor of the new year,  “Oie Houney”, but the Manx fest has not been moved to January, as has the Scottish fest.  Manx people continue to ring in their Celtic New Year on the eve of October 31st, just before “mee houney”, Manx for November, begins.

Some Manx hop-tu-naa traditions are similar to Halloween customs.  As with American trick or treaters, Manx children today don disguises and happily go door to door in search of sweet treats.  They may also bring along their carved turnip lanterns–pumpkins are a New World luxury that would have been too expensive to purchase, even if available, so turnips(called moots or swedes) became the practical choice for hop-tu-naa revelers about 100 years ago.  I can tell you from personal experience that carving a turnip is MUCH harder than carving a pumpkin, and requires a good deal of commitment to your art.

 

 

In the old days, children would sing the Manx Gaelic Hop-tu-Naa Song (see above), as they roamed door to door, seeking apples, salted herring, old coins or other goodies. Sadly, the song is rarely heard sung in Manx these days, but recent efforts to increase Manx Gaelic use throughout the island may give the Hop-tu-Naa Song a rebirth. I searched in vain for a video or sound clip of the song being sung in Manx.

Another musical  hop-tu-naa tradition involves singing a song about a local lady, Jinny the witch, as the children go from house to house. Not to be confused with just any old Halloween witch, this Jinny is unique to the Isle of Man and predates  Halloween by several centuries. She lived  in the town of Braddan and was tried for witchcraft in the early 18th century, for using magic to shut down the local corn mill.  Fortunately for her, local authorities did not have the same zealousness for punishing witches as was seen in 18th century Scotland and America.  Jinny was sentenced to 14 days’ imprisonment, fined £3 and made to stand at the four market crosses dressed in sackcloth–not fun, but much better than being burned at the stake.

 

 

There are numerous versions of the Jinny the Witch song, but a common one has the following lyrics:

Hop-tu-Naa, Tra-la-laa
Jinny the Witch flew over the house
To catch a stick to lather the mouse
Hop-tu-Naa, Tra-la-laa
If you don’t give us something we’ll run away
With the light of the moon.

 

Here is short video from the Manx Heritage Center in 2011, showing some of the dancing, music and activities traditionally associated with hop-tu-naa–watch for the little guy dancing with a candy cigarette in his mouth:

 

To learn more about the Isle of Man:

The Isle of Man: Portrait of A Nation, John Grimson, 2010 ISBN-10: 0709081030

Manx Heritage Center http://tinyurl.com/kdx58xm

The Folk-Lore of the Isle of Man: Being an Account of its Myths, Legends, Superstitions, Customs & Proverbs(Forgotten Books), A. W. Moore, 1891,
ISBN-10: 1605061832

468 ad

2 Comments

  1. Lesley

    This is the version of the Hop tu Naa song we sung in Peel, Isle of Man, going from house to house with our carved turnip lanterns :-

    Hop tu Naa put in the pot,
    Hop tu Naa I scald me throt (throat)
    Hop tu Naa I met an ol’ woman
    Hop tu Naa she was bakin’ bonnag
    Hop tu Naa I asked for a bit
    Hop tu Naa she gave me a bit as big as me big toe
    Hop tu Naa she dipped it in milk
    Hop tu Naa she wrapped it in silk
    Hop tu Naa, Traa lah laa
    If you don’t give me a penny I’ll run away by the light of the moon!

    • Elaine

      Oh I am so glad I am not the only one who sang this version, when we moved to Onchan nobody seemed to know it

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Lioar - […] from this great article about Hop-Tu-Naa (Isle of Man equivalent of Halloween) Pumpkins are sold and used here now,…