Punkie Night, SomersetAt roughly the same time as Halloween, and with so many similarities to the American tradition of carving pumpkin lanterns that one must have come from the other, though which is the original is open to debate, Punkie Night in various Somerset villages is a very localised custom. In times past the day seems to have been a moveable feast, but now the last Thursday in October is the settled date for the event.
Punkie Night sees children parading in the village streets, mixing some trick-or-treating in for good measure, while carrying punkie lanterns. These are carved from large wurzels, whose orange skin is again reminiscent of the pumpkin tradition. In fact the very word punkie may just be a childish corruption of the word pumpkin. The solidity of the wurzel allows for rather ghostly versions to be carved, with a thin layer of skin left to show the glow of the candle within. With three strings to dangle them from, or whatever other means can be devised, the punkies are carried about the villages, kids and adults alike occasionally breaking into the punkie song.
There is a local legend that punkie night celebrates events from hundreds of years ago, when men from the village went to a local fair, and were so late returning - or so drunk they were incapable of returning - that their wives went seeking them with improvised lanterns cut from wurzels. Whether this contains any truth or not is open to conjecture.
Any celebration that involves a bit of scariness and a lot of silliness is to be supported. And as a very regionalised tradition Punkie Night has something special about it too. So here's hoping Punkie Night carries on, whether it is a survival from medieval days, or something that started in the 20th century.
More British Folk Customs?