Historically Hop tu Naa has been considered to be the Celtic New Year, marking the end of the summer and the beginning of winter.
It was traditionally a time when people would celebrate the safe gathering of the harvest.
A sign that all preparations had been made for the long, cold winter ahead.
Whilst the 31 October may be known to many as Halloween, any Manxman (or woman for that matter) worth his salt will give you the sternest of looks and tell you the festival in question is Hop-tu-naa.
This custom of singing around the houses goes back into history, although the turnip lanterns now irrevocably linked with the practice only seem to appear around 100 years ago.
With the passing of time and mixing of cultures as “incomers” to the island bring their own customs, things do become rather confused and today many see Halloween and Hop-tu-Naa as one and the same.
Children with their turnip lanterns at Cregneash in 2009
In reality there’s no connection. Hop-tu-naa is really a celebration of “Oie Houney”, the original New Year’s Eve. As such it is pretty much the sole reminder of these ancient times and “Hop-tu-naa” itself is a corruption of “Shogh ta’n Oie”, meaning “this is the night”.
However, the Celtic new year was moved to the secular new year on 01 January, a move still remembered in Scotland where “Hogmanay” (from the same root words) is still celebrated.
The Celtic year was divided into quarters and “Sauin”, or New Year was celebrated in “Mee Houney”, the Manx for November. The fact remains, like it or not, the two festivals are very much linked for many young practitioners.
How many Hop-Tu-Naaers know the words to the traditional Manx Gaelic song? The answer is very few – although it’s to be hoped a recent resurgence of interest in Manx Gaelic and the formation of a Manx speaking playgroup and primary school may help rectify this situation.
Today the chances are you will be treated to a rendition, or more likely part-rendition, of “Ginnie the Witch” a song which seemingly adds to the confusion between Hop-tu-Naa and Halloween despite having been around for a good number of decades.
If you’re less lucky, you may be assailed with another presumably none Manx variant, “The witches of Halloween” (ooo-oooh), but few will be serenaded with the original Manx Song “Shoh shenn oie Houiney, Hop-tu-naa, T’an eayst soilshean, Trol-la-laa” or “this is old Hollandtide night/The moon shines bright”.
And what of the lanterns?
A proper Hop-tu-Naaer will have a hollowed out turnip the size of a man’s head, with flickering eyes, and jagged mouth illuminated from within by a candle. A good turnip lantern is worth a pound of anyone’s money, safe in the knowledge that someone, though probably not the little cherub on your doorstep, has suffered sprained wrists and blistered thumbs scooping it out.
Tragically there is now a much-preferred soft option, the pumpkin. True, they make very nice lanterns but they’re really not in the same league. Cut the top off, turn it upside down and the insides practically fall out. This American import goes hand-in-turnip with that other transatlantic custom, Trick or Treat, in which a devil mask and bin liner are all that’s needed to do the rounds, with the threat of a trashed flowerbed if the homeowner isn’t forthcoming with a couple of quid.
Three customs muddled into one night – it can only be the Isle of Man. Hop-tu-naa it seems has a confused present and an uncertain future, but it’s to be hoped it does survive; a generation of children deprived of the smell of burning turnip would be a poorer one indeed.
This year Manx National Heritage will host a range a celebrations including traditional turnip (not pumpkin!) carving at Cregneash.
Carving turnip lanters is a Hop tu Naa tradition
Andrew Metcalfe, Museums and Sites Manager for Manx National Heritage said: “The event is a great opportunity for everyone to find out more about the customs and traditions of Manx Hop tu Naa. Children will be given the opportunity to make and decorate their own turnip lanterns to take home and take part in other various activities associated with the festive occasion.”