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Carving your way through Hop Tu Naa

Friday 29 October in Community

Today, things may seem perhaps a little bit ‘spookier’ and murkier as we honour one of our oldest Manx traditions – Hop Tu Naa. Though different in name, the custom still crawls with the same trepidation and horrors as its neighbour, Halloween. Whilst the tradition behind it may be impossible to fully understand, let us try paint a picture of its twists and turns.

1. It’s all in the Name

The 31st October is known to many across the world as ‘Halloween’ or ‘All Hallows Eve’ – a custom which is said to originate from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. ‘Hop Tu Naa’ derives from the old Manx Gaelic saying 'Shoh ta'n Oie' which translates into 'This is the Night.’

2. Same place, same date, same time – 31st October

Originally hundreds of years ago, the night is believed to be a time where witchcraft and strange occurrences like to come out to play. Though the date is shared with the UK celebration, there are many other key differences from the vegetables carved and the words spoken. The date also honours the gathering of the harvest and the preparations which have been made for the upcoming winter.

3. There’s no such thing as a pumpkin

A turnip known as a ‘moots’ in Manx gaelic is hollowed out and carved. Yet, the root vegetable only appeared on the Isle of Man’s Hop Tu Naa in the late 18th century. Pumpkins weren’t around in the British Isles 40 years ago, and are believed to originate from Mexico in Southern America. Before any of these vegetables existed, Manxies used a cabbage to knock on the door which handed the tradition another name - ‘Thump the door night.’

4. Money only please, no sweets

Instead of collecting sweets during their visit around the houses, children on the Isle of Man often asked for money with the hope of it going towards Bonfire Night celebrations on 5th November.

5. Sing me a song

Not only does ‘Hop Tu Naa’ mean the equivalent of Halloween, but it is the title of a song sung during the evening. Young children dance around the houses of their neighbours, singing ‘Hop Tu Naa’ in the hope of gaining sweets or money as they recount the tale of Jinny the Witch. According to Culture Vannin’s Online and Educational Resources Officer, James Franklin, no one wrote the lyrics to the Hop Tu Naa song, with each area of the Island having its own version. The tune definitely has a brighter rhythm than your regular ‘trick or treat.’

6. Follow the folklore

Hop Tu Naa is often associated with the Celtic New Year celebration in its background and traditional customs. Practices such as divination (being able to see the future) have still been explored as late as the 1980s and accompanied by superstition, as well as the folk tales carried through the Island’s history. A lot of our traditions are like Ireland or Scotland rather than England, which is very interesting with the link to different forms of its activity at this time of year.

7. Jinny the Witch

The iconic figure of the beloved Manx song wasn’t included in the lyrics until the 1900s- then known as ‘Jinny the Squinny.’ However, she is based off a real life woman called Joney Lowney who was put on trial and executed for witchcraft in 1716. It marked the largest witch trial held on the Island, and she was condemned her for crimes which included killing livestock and spoiling her neighbour’s milk, though word was she was a ‘humble healer.’

8. Listen to the superstitions

There are many weird and eccentric practices Manx residents pass onto one another. One tale warns that during Hop Tu Naa everyone needed to be in bed by midnight, to avoid bumping into the ghosts of the old household, which would walk through the house. It may be worth listening to a superstition or two if you want to steer clear of bad luck.

9. Light the bonfire

During Hop Tu Naa bonfires were lit with the hope of warding off evil spirits, as the flames would act as a barrier between worlds. The 31st is the eve where the veil is at its thinnest between worlds, at which point it’s believed people could steal luck and associated with misfortune.

10. A chance to see your soulmate

Divination practices remain strongly linked to witchcraft and Hop Tu Naa. Acts such as Soddag Valloo are thought to have been carried out in the last 30 years. The custom says if you silently bake and consume a cake made from soot, eggshells and salt, before retiring to bed, also without speaking a word, you will dream of the person you are destined to marry. Other traditions of stealing and consuming a salt herring from a neighbour in the dark, and burning nuts in the fireplace are believed to make similar predictions regarding your future lover.

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