Monday, October 30, 2017

History of Carving Pumpkins

Halloween, Jack O Lantern  As long as I can remember, my family has always had a tradition of carving pumpkins for Halloween.  We never carve it until the day of Halloween because as soon as the day is done, we've always baked the pumpkin to use for Thanksgiving pies.  The seeds are always dried and cooked up to eat for snacks.

I've always wondered where the tradition of carving pumpkins came from. Apparently, the tradition of carving scary faces into pumpkins and lighting the face comes from an Irish folktale on Stingy Jack.  The Irish never used pumpkins because its a new world food.  Instead they used to carve faces into large turnips and potatoes.

When the Irish immigrated to the United States, they brought the tradition with them and began using pumpkins.  According to the myth, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him but true to his name, Stingy Jack never paid for anything if possible.  So he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin to pay for drinks but instead he kept the money.  He placed it in his pocket right next to a silver cross.  The cross prevented the Devil from changing back so in order to return to his form, the Devil had to promise not to bother Jack for a whole year nor claim his soul should he die during that year.

A year later, Jack convinced the Devil to climb a tree to pick a piece of fruit but while the Devil was up the tree, he carved a cross in the trunk to keep the Devil from climbing down.  Jack made the Devil promise not to bother him for 10 years.  During that time, Jack died but God would not allow him into heaven.  The Devil refused to let him into hell due to all the tricks he played on him, so he gave Jack a burning coal to light his way when the Devil sent him out into the dark night.

Jack carried the coal in a carved turnip as he wondered the earth.  The name of his ghostly figure began as Jack of the Lantern but changed to Jack O'Lantern as time passed.  People in Scotland and Ireland began carving scary faces into turnips and placing them in windows and doorways to scare Jack and other evil spirits.  The English used to carve faces into beets for the same purpose.

On the other hand, there are indications that the term Jack O'Lantern is actually a British term originating in the 17th century to refer to anyone carrying a lamp such as a night watchman but I prefer the myth as its more fun.

Let me know what you think.  I'd love to hear.

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