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

Manx Hop-tu-Naa Turnip Lanterns

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

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

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Halloween in Cornwall

Oct 29, 2013 by

Halloween in Cornwall is called Nos Kalan Gwav and is celebrated with both ancient Celtic traditions and newer Christian customs.

  October 31st is also known in Cornwall as Allantide (to English speakers), a festival linked to St Allen or Alanus, a minor Breton saint who may have come to Cornwall via Wales. Despite its Christianized name, however, Halloween in Cornwall  has ancient pagan origins.

The Cornish language name for the celebration is Kalan Gwav, meaning first day of winter, and Nos Kalan Gwav, meaning eve of the first day of winter, falls on October 31st, just like Samhain fests in other Celtic countries.


The most common symbol of Allantide is a large red apple.  Apples were given for good luck to everyone in the family, and to wish them good health as the cold winter days began. Apples were powerful symbols of fertility and bountiful harvests to the ancient Celts, so it’s not surprising that the fruit was appropriated by Christians for their Allan Day customs on October 31st:

THE ancient custom of providing children with a large apple on Allhallows-eve is still observed, to a great extent, at St Ives. “Allan-day,” as it is called, is the day of days to hundreds’ of children, who would deem it a great misfortune were they to go to bed on “Allan-night” without the time-honoured Allan apple to hide beneath their pillows. A quantity of large apples are thus disposed of the sale of which is dignified by the term Allan Market.

Popular Romances of the West of Britain, Robert Hunter, 1902.

Halloween in Cornwall sometimes included divination rituals using apples. Young girls wanting to know their future spouse would place the apple under their pillow, in hopes of dreaming about their Cornish prince.  As with other Celtic Samhain festivals, Halloween in Cornwall almost always included building fires.  Gathering around the local bonfire and offering apples to friends and visitors was customary, a tradition from a simpler time that has been lost in our modern era.  These days, I can’t imagine any parent letting a child accept an apple in lieu of wrapped Halloween candy.

Allan apples sometimes were used in games played during the celebrations.  In 19th century Penzance,  apples were hung from a wooden cross shape, decorated with lit candles, in a Cornish version of bobbing for apples:

A local game is also recorded where two pieces of wood were nailed together in the shape of a cross. It was then suspended with 4 candles on each outcrop of the cross shape. Allan apples would then be suspended under the cross. The goal of the game was to catch the apples in your mouth, with hot wax being the penalty for slowness or inaccuracy.

Folklore and Legends of Cornwall, M.A. Courtney, 1890


Why not grab some apples, sticks and candles and give this game a try on Nos Kalan Gwav? Be sure to buy large apples–your party guests will thank you. Besides, a little candle wax on the face seems a small price to pay to celebrate Halloween in true Cornish fashion.


One of my favorite Halloween songs is This is Halloween, from Tim Burton’s 1993 film The Nightmare Before Christmas. Here’s the song with CORNISH subtitles–Hemm yw Kalan Gwav!


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