Hop-tu-Naa fun for all

WEDNESDAY, October 31, sees the annual celebration of Hop tu Naa. A tradition that stems back further than the more recent Hallowe'en celebrations, Sue Woolley reports on the background to the Celtic festival.

>> Listen to 'Hop Tu Naa', sung in Manx and then in English by children of Manor Park school by clickng the play icon the right.

>> Download a PDF version of the lyrics <a href="http://www2.iomtoday.co.uk/pdfs/Hop tu naa Gaelic song full version.pdf"

here and sing along. There's also a few regional variations <a href="http://www2.iomtoday.co.uk/pdfs/Hop tu naa Rhymes various.pdf"


(Requires Adobe acrobat reader, available as a free download <a href="http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html"


Hop tu Naa is one of the few old Celtic festivals still observed today.

In days gone by, youths went from house to house banging on doors with cabbages on sticks until they were given potatoes, herring or some bonnag to go on their way.

For the past 100 years at least, children have gone around from house to house after dark carrying turnip lanterns and singing 'Jinny the Witch went over the house to get a stick to lather the mouse. Hop Tu Naa, Hop Tu Naa' in the hope of being rewarded with a few coins or sweets.

'Hop Tu Naa' is a corruption of 'Shoh ta'n Oie' ('This is the Night'). It was the last night of the Celtic Year and the name is believed to have the same origin as the Scottish Hogmanay.

Other names for it are Oie Houney or Hollantide Eve.

It is all tied up with the season of Sauin, one of the chief festivals in the Celtic calendar, marking the end of summer.

Its date, November 12, changed with the new calendar to the first of the month. It is still one of the four Manx quarter days, the time of year when land and property are leased and rents are due.

It was a significant time in the farming calendar, with the prospect of cold wintry weather and short days ahead and was the time when cattle were brought into the cowhouses where they would stay warm, fed and protected until spring.

Margaret Killip, writing in The Folklore of the Isle of Man, explained:

'The many misfortunes to which a farmer is prone, the failure of crops and the disease and death of cattle, which were latterly regarded as the result of witchcraft and the evil eye, must originally have been attributed to inimical natural forces, which to primitive man were the most powerful and mysterious he knew.

'At no time of year can they have been aware of these forces so strongly as towards the end, when, as winter came on, all they feared and stood most in awe of seemed to be closing in around them, while those powers that aided and favoured their existence were in retreat.

It was in this dark season of the year, at the onset of winter, that the Manx people like the rest of the Celtic world celebrated the New Year.'

Before agriculture had advanced sufficiently to enable farmers to keep their cattle alive throughout the winter, the festival of Sauin possibly became associated with an enforced slaughter of cattle towards the end of the year.

There is a Manx song of great antiquity that mentions some of the practices associated with the season of Sauin, or more particularly with the night preceding it.

The words are obscure and in the main have baffled folklorists, but some of the more intelligible lines refer to the selection of the animal, the slaughter, cooking and eating of it at the feast:

Shibber y gounee – Supper of the heifer.

Cre'n gauin gow mayd? – What heifer shall we take?

Yn Gauin beg breck – The little spotted heifer.

Some of the older customs are similar to those now attached to the January New Year. It was a time for prophesying, weather prediction and fortune-telling. The ashes of the fire were smoothed out on the hearth last thing at night to receive the imprint of a foot.

If, next morning, the track pointed towards the door, someone in the house would die, but if the footprint pointed inward, it indicated a birth.

A cake was made which was called Soddag Valloo or Dumb Cake, because it was made and eaten in silence.

Young women and girls all had a hand in baking it on the red embers of the hearth, first helping to mix the ingredients, flour, eggs, eggshells, soot and salt, and kneading the dough.

The cake was divided up and eaten in silence and, still without speaking, all who had eaten it went to bed, walking backwards, expecting and hoping to see their future husband in a dream or vision.

Another means of divination was to steam a salt herring from a neighbour, roast it over the fire, eat it in silence and retire to bed.

The future husband was expected to appear in the dream offer a drink of water.

It is a sign of the times that nowadays, the festival of Hop tu Naa is more likely to take place in a community hall rather than allowing children to wander unaccompanied around the streets or the countryside as they did 50 years ago.

Competitions are held for the spookiest costume and most impressive lantern. Pumpkins so outnumber the traditional turnip that the humble moot has to have its own section!

Why should we continue to celebrate Hop Tu Naa? Manx Music Specialist, Chlo Woolley gives the following reasons:

'It's a key part of Manx history,' said Chlo.

'It tells us a lot about Manx tradition. It is a very old custom.

Making turnip lanterns takes real skill and bravery! It is our way of acknowledging the onset of winter. It's Manx!'

WHO was Jinny the Witch who pops up in the Hop tu Naa song still sung today?

Apparently, Jinny's real name was Joney Lowney. She lived in Braddan, on the Mount Murray back road. She was tried at Bishop's Court for witchcraft in 1715 and 1716. Her greatest crime was stopping the Ballaughton Corn Mill, infuriated as she was by the poor quality of the grain.

She was sentenced to 14 days' imprisonment, fined 3 and made to stand at the four market crosses dressed in sackcloth. In England or Scotland she would have been burnt at the stake.

She died in January 1725 and is buried at Old Kirk Braddan.

In Joney's first trial, she was accused of vanishing one evening and not returning 'until the following morning with plenty of fishes'.

In many rhymes the following is a common refrain and is likely refer to the evidence given in court:

'Jinny the Witch went over the house

To get the stick to lather the mouse

Hop Tu Naa, my mother's gone away

And she won't be back until the morning'.

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