“It’s Punkie Night,
It’s Punkie Night,
Give me a candle,
Give me a light,
If you don’t, you’ll get a fright!”
-Traditional Punkie Night song.
Celebrated in South Somerset, the last Thursday in October is called Punkie Night and is a precursor to our modern trick or treating traditions. The word “punkie” comes from the Somerset word for will-o’-the-wisps, and refers to the turnip jack o’ lanterns that were carried by children, or as a variation on the Irish Gaelic word pooka, meaning a type of goblin or fairy which were thought to be especially active at this time of year.
In the villages of Hinton St George, Long Sutton and Lopen (which are all within a 5 mile radius of my home!), children would carry carved manglewurzel (turnip) lanterns through the streets, singing the song above, or a variation of it, and beg for candles or pennies. The lanterns were also placed around farms to ward away troublesome spirits or given to travellers to light their way and keep them from being “pixie led”.
The tradition has been somewhat revived in more recent years, with processions of children parading the streets and having their “punkie” judged in Hinton St George village hall.