It’s the first of February which means two things.
Firstly, it’s still cold outside.
Secondly, there’s a good chance someone you know has taken the opportunity to physically assault you whilst shouting “a pinch and a punch for the first of the month!” followed by “white rabbits, no return!”.
Yup, just like that.
So what’s responsible for the collective mass hysteria?
Well, it’s all to do with witches. And a rather suspicious attitude to the supernatural.
Witches were very common in medieval times, or at least that’s what a lot of people believed.
Not content with burning poor young women at the stake and drowning them to test their innocence (by which time they were already dead), people also felt the need to protect themselves with a bit of folklore.
Salt was believed to weaken witches (though of course we all know now that water is the best weapon against them) so the “pinch” refers to a pinch of salt.
The “punch” is exactly that - a swift knuckle sandwich to banish the already suffering hag.
There is also a second theory that states president George Washington inspired the term when he met local Indian tribes on the first of each month with a gift of fruit punch with a pinch of salt added.
So take your pick.
The “white rabbits” tradition appears to come from a British periodical on folklore published in 1909 called ‘Notes and Quries’.
A passage 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.”
Someone using the phrase after pinching and punching someone is then immune from retaliation leaving their unfortunate victim to come up with some other method of fighting off witches all month.
Interestingly, RAF bomber crews during World War 2 were said to say “white rabbits” upon waking up to protect them from harm.
Unfortunately it did not appear to work as Bomber Command had the highest attrition rate of all British units during the conflict - nearly half, 55,000, were killed.