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Halloween Pumpkin Carving! 
Origins and How to Carve a Jack 'O Lantern!

If you are not from the British Isles, you won't believe where your hollowed out pumpkin comes from! In Ireland and Scotland hollowed-out turnips with embers or candles inside, became a very popular Halloween decoration a few hundred years ago. Baldrick would have met his dream! (Fans of "Blackadder"  will recognize this!) The English used beets (which they call "beetroots").  Talk about doing things the hard way!

Tradition held that they would ward off Stingy Jack and other malevolent spirits on Halloween, and they also served as representations of the souls of the dead. Irish families who emigrated to America brought the tradition with them, but they replaced the turnips with pumpkins, which, native to the new world, were plentiful. It didn't hurt that they are a lot easier to carve than turnips.  Have you ever tried to hollow out a turnip?  People began to carve frightening faces and other designs into their jack-o'-lanterns.

The practice of carving turnips began with an Irish myth about a man nicknamed "Stingy Jack.", a famous cheapskate who, on several occasions, avoided losing his soul to the devil by tricking him (often on All Hallows' Eve).   In one story, he convinced Satan to climb up a tree for some apples, and then cut crosses all around the trunk so the devil couldn't climb down. The devil promised to leave Jack alone forever, if he would only let him out of the tree. In another story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. Of course, Stingy Jack didn't want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin so that Jack pay for their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money! He put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the devil, again with the same promise not to take his soul.

When Jack eventually died, he was turned away from Heaven, due to his life of sin. But, in keeping with their agreement, the Devil wouldn't take Jack, either. He was cursed to travel forever as a spirit in limbo. As Jack left the gates of Hell, the Devil threw him a hot ember to light the way in the dark. Jack placed the ember in a hollowed-out turnip, and wandered off into the world. According to the Irish legend, you might see Jack's spirit on All Hallows' Eve, still carrying his turnip lantern through the darkness. The Irish began to refer to this eerie figure as "Jack of the Lantern," and then, just "Jack O'Lantern." Click here for a web page that has the complete Stingy Jack story!

  • Pumpkins are fruits, a type of squash that cucumbers, squashes and melons.
  • Pumpkins are native to North America and have been domestically grown there for five thousand years.  
  • In 1584, after French explorer Jacques Cartier explored the Saint Lawrence region of North America, he reported finding "gros melons" (large melons). The name was translated into English as "pompions," which has since evolved into the modern "pumpkin."
  • Pumpkins are low in calories, fat, and sodium and high in fiber. They are good sources of Vitamin A, Vitamin B, potassium, protein, and iron.
  • The largest pumpkin ever grown was over 1100 by a man in Ohio, in 2000.
  • Pumpkins require a long hot growing season and loads of humus, manure and water.

For directions on how to carve your pumpkin, click here for Pumpkin Carving 101


This page was updated on 13-Jan-2018

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