Halloween in England

The Anglo-Saxon invasions of the 5th and 6th centuries A.D. pushed the native Celts north and westward in Britain, to present-day Wales, and Northern England, taking the festival with them. Scotland, having a shared Gaelic culture and language with ancient Ireland, celebrated the festival of Samhain.

Meanwhile in England, the English Reformation in the 16th century de-emphasized Roman Catholic holy days like All Hallows Day and its associated eve.

With the rise of Guy Fawkes Night celebrations in 17th-century England, many Halloween traditions, especially the building of bonfires, were transferred to the new holiday, only six days from the old. On this patriotic holiday, children light bonfires and burn effigies of Guy Fawkes, a conspirator who tried to blow up the English Parliament building in 1605.

Today, adults in the UK often dress up and go to fancy dress parties or pubs and clubs on Halloween night.

The black cat was considered to be bad luck, whereas a white cat was considered to be good luck but in general the black cat is a lucky omen in the UK.

Souling died out in most areas of England by the mid-17th century, during the Protestant Reformation. There is no evidence that souling was ever practiced in North America, and trick-or-treating seems to have evolved there independently: the earliest report of ritual begging on Halloween is from 1915, and it did not become a widespread practice until the 1930s. Ritual begging on Halloween did not appear in the British Isles until the late 20th century, and imitates the American custom.

In Celtic parts of western Brittany, Samhain is still heralded by the baking of kornigou. Kornigou are cakes baked in the shape of antlers to commemorate the god of winter shedding his “cuckold” horns as he returns to his kingdom in the Otherworld.

Punkie night

“Punkie Night” is observed on the last Thursday in October in the village of Hinton St. George in the county of Somerset in England. On this night, children carry lanterns made from hollowed-out mangel-wurzels (a kind of beet; in modern days, pumpkins are used) with faces carved into them. They bring these around the village, collecting money and singing the punkie song. Punkie is derived from pumpkin or punk, meaning tinder.

Though the custom is only attested over the last century, and the mangel-wurzel itself was introduced into English agriculture in the late 18th century, “Punkie Night” appears to be much older even than the fable that now accounts for it. The story goes that the wives of Hinton St. George went looking for their wayward husbands at the fair held nearby at Chiselborough, the last Thursday in October, but first hollowed out mangel wurzels in order to make lanterns to light their way.

The drunken husbands saw the eerie lights, thought they were “goolies” (the restless spirits of children who had died before they were baptized), and fled in terror. Children carry the punkies now. The event has spread since about 1960 to the neighboring village of Chiselborough.

Sources: on-line report from the Western Gazette and a National Geographic radio segment. Chiselborough Fair is memorialized by Fair Place in the village. The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868) reported that there was “a fair for horses and cattle on the last Thursday in October.”


Hop-tu-Naa is a Celtic festival celebrated in the Isle of Man on the 31st October; elsewhere known as Hallowe’en.

For Hop-tu-Naa children dress up as scary beings and go from house to house with the hope of being given sweets or money, as elsewhere. However the children carry turnips rather than pumpkins and sing an Anglicized version of Jinnie the Witch. The changeover from turnips to pumpkins has also happened in Scotland, where the similar practice is called “guising”.

In older times children would have also brought the stumps of turnips with them and batter the doors of those who refused to give them any money! (An ancient form of trick or treat, however this practice appears to have died out.)

The term is Manx Gaelic in origin, but its meaning is actually unknown. It may be cognate with Hogmanay, which is the Scottish New Year; Hallowe’en being the original Celtic New Year.