Like many British traditions saying ‘White Rabbits’ and ‘Pinch Punch’ at the start of the month goes so far back in history that we don’t bother questioning it anymore.
The background behind these common customs is quite interesting and this month instead of just saying ‘white rabbits’ or ‘pinch punch’ to someone you can actually explain to them why you are saying this utterly random phrase.
It is another one of those very random traditions that have somehow made their way through generations of Brits, making us seem like a very superstitious people.
If you say either white rabbits or pinch punch before midday on the first day of the month it is meant to bring good luck.
According to some stories of the origins of the phrase pinch punch, it was president George Washington who began the tradition.
When he was president on the first day of each month he would meet with Indian tribes and supply fruit punch with an added pinch of salt.
This became known as ‘pinch punch on the first of the month’.
There is another story that the tradition came all the way from medieval times when people believed in witches.
Salt was meant to make witches weak, so the pinch signified the use of salt to weaken the witch, while the punch was then administered to banish the witch for good.
After that saying the words ‘pinch punch for the first of the month’ therefore became a way of welcoming in a new month and protecting yourself from bad luck.
In added confusion to what I have just said, in response to ‘pinch punch’ you must say ‘white rabbits, no return’, which means you can’t be pinched and punched back.
So where does white rabbits come from?
A reference to ‘white rabbits, white rabbits’ is found in the ‘Notes and Queries’ book (a British periodical where experts share knowledge on folklore, literature and history) from 1909.
The entry reads: ‘My two daughters are in the habit of saying ‘Rabbits!’ on the first day of each month. The word must be spoken aloud, and be the first word said in the month. It brings luck for that month. Other children, I find, use the same formula.”
It was also a common belief among RAF bomber aircrew during WW2 that saying ‘white rabbits’ when you woke up would protect you from harm.
Bear with me but, if someone just gave you a pinch and a punch this morning (and forgets to follow it up with a white rabbit), don’t just punch them back – the correct protocol, which originated in the West Country, is to respond with: ‘A flick and a kick for being so quick’.