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English Folklore: The Forgotten Death of Mischief Night

Sunday, October 16, 2016 5:41
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English Folklore: The Forgotten Death of Mischief Night

In the post-war years of the 1950’s through to the late 1980’s (when it began to be usurped by Halloween) Mischief Night was the “big” night before Bonfire Night, whereas Halloween on the 31st was very much a non-event. The 4th November was even the night we had carved lanterns, called Punkie lanterns (“Give me a candle, Give me a light, If you don’t, You’ll get a fright”) only they were carved out of turnips or swedes, rather than pumpkins.

A traditional turnip Jack-o'-lantern from the early 20th century.

A traditional turnip Jack-o'-lantern from the early 20th century. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

But, where did it come from?

Although Bonfire Night can be traced back to the early 17th century (in fact it was one of the few public festivities the Puritans didn’t ban during Cromwell’s time) November’s Mischief Night activities were not widely mentioned until the 1850’s. Victorian folklorists suggested its popularity spread from Yorkshire, because Guy Fawkes was born in York and he was up to mischief on the evening of the 4th November, when he was preparing the gunpowder in the undercroft beneath the House of Lords, which is where he was captured.

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