Pooky, Punkie pumpkins

If you ever wondered about the origins of the pumpkin and its connection with Halloween in Somerset, then here’s what we’ve discovered.

The pumpkin is thought to have originated in North America, but it was 19th century Ireland, where they have Pooky Night, that gave us the famous carved pumpkins, which we now take as a symbol of Halloween.

Back then, turnips or mangel wurzels were mostly used hollowed out as lanterns and carved with grotesque faces. They were more commonly used in parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands as well as here in Somerset.

Carved, lit pumpkins were made at Halloween in Somerset during the 19th century for ‘Punkie Night’, which was a custom practiced on the last Thursday of October when children marched around pumpkins singing the Punkie song:

It’s Punkie Night tonight
It’s Punkie Night tonight
Adam and Eve would not believe
It’s Punkie Night tonight

It’s thought that a punkie was an old English word for a lantern and that farmers used to pop them on their gate posts to ward off evil spirits at this time of year.

During Punkie Night children were also thought to have gone around asking for candles and would threaten people who didn’t give them any.

This was slightly harsh during the 19th century as candles were a valuable commodity in winter months!