Writer. Adventurer. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a series of steampunk novels and short stories.
In South Somerset, on the last Thursday of October every year, Punkie Night is celebrated. Children carry around lanterns called “Punkies”, which are hollowed out mangel-wurzel. Mangel-wurzel are also carved for Halloween in other parts of England, such as Norfolk and Wales.
No one knows how the custom originated, although it is most likely linked with Halloween. The word “punkie” is an old English name for a lantern, and jack o’lanterns for Punkie Night may be made of mangel-wurzel rather than pumpkins. An alternative explanation of the term is that it is derived from pumpkin or punk, meaning tinder.
One source attributes the custom’s origins to a fair which was at one time held at Chiselborough. Men who would leave the fair on late October evenings would need lights to guide them home, which would lead either to women making a jack o’lantern for their husbands, or men making the jack o’lantern, according to different versions of story. In earlier times farmers would put a traditional “Punkie” on their gates to ward off evil spirits at this time of year.
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I’ve been working on some short story ideas, and of course some of them relate to Halloween, but I felt like they were stale or rehashed versions of other tales. Punkie night sounded like a fresh perspective to me and it got the creative juices flowing… or maybe that’s just the candy corn talking.
Anyways, I wanted to say Happy Halloween and Happy Punkie Night and share my newfound love of the word “mangel-wurzel” with the world.