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A stock image of a carved pumpkin and turnip with two signs reading 'Happy Halloween' and 'Happy Hop-tu-Naa'

Hop-Tu-Naa: The Celtic festival celebrated every Halloween on the Isle of Man


With the falling of the leaves comes the reminder that the final days of summer are now behind us. Autumn begins to take its grip across the landscape as trees gradually turn into a hue of yellows, reds and oranges.

With the turning of the seasons comes the arrival of one of the world’s most popular celebrations, Halloween. The traditions of pumpkin carving, trick-or-treating and apple bobbing will be observed up and down the country on the night of 31 October.

However, if you reside on the Isle of Man (the self-governing dependency situated in the Irish Sea), you’ll be celebrating a similar but different kind of holiday, Hop-tu-Naa.

Origins of Hop-tu-Naa

The origins of our modern Halloween can be traced back over 2,000 years to the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain (pronounced ‘sow-in’), traditionally celebrated on 1 November. The Celts lived across a large area from Britain and Ireland to northern France. They were a farming and agricultural people whose year was defined by the growing seasons.

The word Samhain translates as ‘summer’s end’ and the festival marked the changing of the seasons when the harvest was over and winter was beginning. On the Isle of Man, the Celtic celebration of Samhain is called Hop-tu-Naa and is believed to be the oldest continually observed tradition on the Isle.

Although at first glance Hop-tu-Naa and Halloween look very similar, occurring on the same date each year with traditions stemming from Samhain, they are in fact two separate and unconnected celebrations.

The Manx people

The name Hop-tu-Naa comes from the Manx Gaelic term Shoh ta’n Oie, which translates as ‘This is the night’. The Manx people are a unique ethnic group who originate from the Isle of Man. Their heritages and traditions have Norse-Gaelic influences as well as English and they even have a unique language known as Manx Gaelic.

The festival of Hop-tu-Naa originally marked the eve of the Celtic New Year known as Oie Houney or Hollantide. This association with New Year’s Eve has made some make the connection between Hop-tu-Naa and the Scottish celebration of Hogmanay.

The traditions of Hop-tu-Naa

Singing and dancing

Singing and dancing are a key part of Hop-tu-Naa celebrations, with many traditional songs associated with the festival. Often children learn the songs and recite them to their neighbours, singing at their doorstep.

One of the most popular songs is called the Hop-tu-Naa song, which also has an accompanying dance. The dance is a simple procession of pairs of dancers that involves a step known as the Manx Reel Step. Along with this move, couples also hold hands to form arches.

Turnips not pumpkins

When the Irish immigrants arrived in America during the 19th century, they brought with them many of their Halloween traditions. One of which included the carving of faces into turnips, known as Jack o'lanterns. However, turnips were not in abundant supply in the States and so the root vegetable was substituted with the native pumpkin.

Back on the Isle of Man, turnips remain the veg of choice for Hop-tu-Naa. Faces, along with other designs including witches, are carved into turnips, after which a candle is placed inside the vegetable to create a lantern known as a ‘moot’.

Trick or treating Hop-tu-Naa style

Hop-tu-Naa also shares the custom of trick-or-treating but with a slight twist. Traditionally, children sang at the doors of their neighbours in the hope of being rewarded with a variety of things from coins or money to bread (known as bonnag), potatoes and even herring!

Nowadays the children are rewarded with more modern sugary treats and luckily the tradition of battering the door of a stingy household with a turnip stump (or a cabbage on a stick) has died out.

Jinny the Witch

Telling stories about Jinny the Witch is a classic Hop-tu-Naa tradition and there’s even a song about her. The song tells the true-life story of a Manx woman called Joney Lowney, who between 1715 and 1716 was put on trial on the Isle of Man accused of witchcraft. Joney inspired the legend of Jinny.

The story goes that Joney was poor and used to go around begging her neighbours for food. Bad luck often befell those who turned her away with many believing Joney was able to wield magical powers. One day she visited the Bishop’s Mill at Braddan and rebuked the miller for handing out such poor-quality grain to the poor. It was said that after she spoke to the miller his machinery mysteriously stopped working and all corn production ground to a halt.

Believing Jinny had cursed the mill she was put on trial for witchcraft and sentenced to 14 days in prison along with a fine. If she'd been tried in England or Scotland during that same period in history she’d have likely been burnt at the stake - 14 days in prison was quite the let off it seems.

Foods and fire

One traditional food associated with Hop-tu-Naa is potatoes, parsnips and fish all mashed together with butter. In the old days, any leftovers remained on the table along with fresh water in case the fairies were hungry.

In case any bad fairies lurked around, gorse bonfires were started to ward them off.


The Celts believed the boundary between our world and the Otherworld was at its thinnest during Samhain, making it a time of divination and fortune-telling. The same belief flows through Hop-tu-Naa as several forms of divination exist in its traditions.

One old Hop-tu-Naa tradition saw people stealing a salted herring from their neighbour’s house. After consuming it, the thief hoped to receive a vision of their future whilst they slept.

Another tradition was to eve’s drop on your neighbour’s conversation whilst holding water in your mouth and holding a pinch of salt in each hand. The first name you heard would be that of your future spouse.

Young women discovered the names of their future husbands by cooking and eating a Soddag Valloo, otherwise known as a ‘Dumb Cake’, as this particular dish was to be consumed in total silence. After finishing the cake, the women walked backwards to their beds and hoped to witness their future husbands in their dreams.

For more articles about the history and traditions of Halloween, check our dedicated Halloween hub.