The 31st October approaches, and it is at this time of year that the Isle of Man tends to fall into two camps: Are you team pumpkin or team turnip?
In the Isle of Man we celebrate Hop Tu Naa. Without going into a full blown out explanation, it is, in a nutshell, old Celtic New Year. It marks the changing of the seasons from Autumn into Winter. In the tradition of Hop Tu Naa we carve turnips into lanterns (known as moots to any Manxie worth their salt) because that is what grows here.
Though there are a lot of similarities with modern Halloween, (like how we also dress up to scare away the evil spirits), there are important differences too which is why it shouldn’t be mistaken for the ‘Manx version of Halloween’ or become so easily merged into obscurity with wider Halloween celebrations. Key differences include singing the huge variety of Hop Tu Naa songs sung all over the island depending on where you’re from; or dancing the Hop Tu Naa dance at a Celi instead of Trick or Treating for the biggest haul of sweets you can get your hands on. For myself, I feel that it is more wholesome to take on the labourious task of carving a turnip and to sing and dance to Hop Tu Naa songs. It is also important in that it helps to promote and keep alive Manx culture. Something that should definitely be cherished and celebrated.
However, since globalisation and Americanisation it’s not hard to see how or why the pumpkin has grown in popularity and availability. It is aesthetically appealing in its vibrant orange colours, perfectly smooth and round in shape, delicious to bake and cook with, and, it is also way easier to carve.
Why bother with the turnip then? The moot in comparison is thoroughly more difficult to carve (I advise drills…), not so pretty to look at, definitely not perfectly spherical, and turnip pie? …perhaps not. But, despite the perhaps more obvious appeal of pumpkins and Halloween, I feel the humble moot needs its champions here on the Isle of Man. Sure, it’s ugly, but that’s what we love about them! They come in a whole spectrum of greens, yellows and deep purples. It’s lumps and bumps are what gives it character (sometimes literally). The years spent carving facial features based purely around it’s bumps and lumps is what gave it charm. Plus, there is nothing like the smell of freshly burning turnip. Once the tealights are lit and placed carefully inside the finished lantern that took you several hours to complete, you can breathe in a great sigh of turnip-y relief. It is the smell of victory! So this is why I say to you that we need to keep this tradition of turnip lanterns and Hop Tu Naa alive and distinct, celebrating them in their own right and recognising their meaning as a turnip-y beacon of Manx culture in the modern day.
That being said, there is a lot of enthusiasm for keeping Hop Tu Naa traditions alive if you know where to find it. But because of the similarities of dressing up and carving vegetable lanterns, it is in danger of becoming swallowed by the American image of modern Halloween. I am not against Halloween in any way, nor am I against the tide of modernity but I do feel strongly that Hop Tu Naa should be valued in it’s own right alongside Halloween rather than to be seen only as a quaint extension of it or the Manx version of it.
So that’s why this year I will be carrying on my tradition of carving a turnip, (with a drill if necessary!) because it just wouldn’t be the same without the smell of burnt turnip in the cold October air.
Whatever you are carving this weekend, spare a thought to the humble turnip and what it represents to the Manx people in all it’s gnarly and deformed glory.
Love, Gráinne x
(Rhymes with Narnia)