Pumpkin carving has long been a Halloween tradition. Jack-o’-lanterns are seen in many homes as the holiday draws near. In fact, even making a trip to the pumpkin patch to select the biggest and best pumpkin has become a family tradition in many homes. Few people ever even wonder how or why it started or realize that this type of squash wasn’t even the original candle holder.
The Origin of the Jack-o’-Lantern
Legend has it, pumpkin carving and the whole business of jack-o’-lanterns originated, not surprisingly, with a bloke named Jack. This Irish tale of lore varies a bit after that, but the running theme seems to be Jack and the Devil had a run in. Most versions of the story say Jack convinced the Devil to perch himself in a tree after which, Jack whittled the sign of the cross into the bark forcing the Devil to remain in the branches. Jack bargained with the Devil, agreeing to let him down only if he promised not to snatch Jack’s soul following his demise. The Devil, reluctantly agreed.
When Jack did finally kick the bucket, he quickly found out he wasn’t welcome in Heaven. Because of the “restraining order” of sorts against the Devil, Hell couldn’t take him, either. Jack was forced to wander into the dark night with only a hot coal to see his path. Jack located a turnip, carved it and used this as his lantern. His apparition was given the original name Jack the Lantern, or the other version more commonly known.
As for the turnip, or beet in some version, it later became a gourd or pumpkin as people keeping with the tradition found it much easier to work with. The reason for the Halloween tradition was to carve scary faces into the lantern to keep Jack away from homes. Often, the jack-o’-lantern was set out on the night before Halloween to ward off any evil spirits.
Some tales seem to claim illuminated pumpkins, gourds, beets, turnips or other types of carved fruits or vegetables were originally placed in homes to help welcome friends of family members who had passed on to the spirit world. Either way, the jack-o’-lantern and pumpkin carving have become a large part of the Halloween tradition. For some people, this is the only decoration they use.
The activity itself is often carried out by the entire family, for a messy but bonding holiday experience. A circle surrounding the stem at the top of the pumpkin, and the top is pulled away and set aside. Next, the inside of the pumpkin is hollowed out by removing the seeds. For extra fun, the seeds can be rinsed off and baked in the oven for a seasonal treat.
Once the pumpkin is cleaned out, the pumpkin carving begins. Usually, a design is first drawn on to the front, or face, of the squash. It may be a simple face design or a more intricate design using a pattern. Though a scary face is the most common look, some people opt for either a more friendly face or a Halloween scene with witches and cats, for example. Once the pattern is actually cut, a candle is placed inside and the top put back.
Some homes choose to have a display of multiple jack-o’-lanterns for optimal décor. This can also be so each member of the family has their very own carved pumpkin.
Alternatives to Carved Pumpkins
The tradition continues to evolve as some homes opt for illuminated devices other than the pumpkin. Aside from other types of carved gourds, some people choose to use decorative jars or punched tins to create and eerie yet decorative holiday look.
A more popular alternative to carved pumpkins in recent years in the electrical jack-o’-lantern, a fake pumpkin that plugs into the wall can still give a hauntingly good look to homes that choose to decorate. There are a couple of reasons some people have made the switch from au natural to electric. One reason is safety. The traditional candle lit jack-o’-lanterns were more of a risk of a fire hazard. The other reason to choose a plug in pumpkin is that it can simply be put away and reused the next year. Not to mention, these types of gourds don’t get targeted for the mischief night tradition of pumpkin smashing.
Whether you choose a pumpkin that runs on candle or electric current, the look of carved pumpkins is sure to be a long time tradition of the Halloween festivities.