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Halloween Jack O' Lanterns and Pumpkin Carving: A Bloodcurdling Pumpkin Tradition

Updated on October 28, 2012
The Book of Hallowe'en. Caption "No Hallowe'en without a Jack-o'-Lantern." (Images this page public domain).
The Book of Hallowe'en. Caption "No Hallowe'en without a Jack-o'-Lantern." (Images this page public domain).

Pumpkins in Ancient Lands and Traditions

I've been reading the HubMob submissions this week, especially those about the history of the Halloween event and related traditions followed throughout a range of international countries. In doing so, I'd not seen a mention of an old and now possibly obscure tradition that was presented several years ago in a history related television series.

It took a lot of searching, but some references emerged that I would like to share. The rudimentary jack-o-lantern type pumpkins shown carved on the image to the right are more like the ones I have been remembering - just eyes and perhaps a mouth opening.

Some masks used in ancient Chinese Opera.
Some masks used in ancient Chinese Opera.

Pumpkin With Intent to Kill

An origins tale about the birth of the jack-o-lantern seems to be present in China and South America, but it is unrelated to any we have heard much about in America. That is, unless we have had access to anthropologists' lectures, nearby research universities, or perhaps the History Channel and National Geographic Channel. Otherwise, we don't hear much about pumpkins used as lanterns or as masks.

I did know a man that once bought an orange suit at the Salvation Army Store, hollowed out a pumpkin head for himself and then went out on Halloween to growl at people, but that's a different story...and I think it's been filmed and playing at the theaters right now.

Inventions of one sort and another have occurred simultaneously or at different times in various spots around the world and the jack-o-lantern is one of them. Certainly the Celts must have been the oldest peoples to have used jack-o-lanterns to date, but others that never met the Celts produced them for other purposes in a different age - in Ancient China, over 6,000 years ago..

Beasts Of the Field: A Narrative History of California Farmworkers, 1769-1913 by Richard Steven Street

This book presents Chinese traditions brought to America with some of the first Chinese immigrants. At a certain California ranch, a Chinese man prepared roast goose many times within his first two weeks on the job as a cook. When asked, he explained that he captured the geese himself. One of the ranch contingent followed him one day soon after in order to find how the cook captured all these geese.

The cook walked to a stand of willows and perhaps cat tails and reeds and went among them into the water. He removed his clothing, places a sort of weighted belt on his body and placed a pumpkin that had eye holes in it over his head. From TV documentaries, I know that he had first spent a little time broadcasting seeds on the river for the birds to eat and floating pumpkins down the stream in order to condition the abundant geese to their presence. Soon, the geese were comfortable with the pumpkins in the water, putting themselves inadvertently in danger.

In his pumpkin disguise, this practical Chinese cook submerged himself after feeding the geese, reached up and dragged them under water by their legs and broke their necks. This was a standard hunting practice passed from generation to generation for 1000s of years.

I have heard stories that this same technique has been in use in Central and South America as well to capture geese (especially in the Amazon River region), but have not found any related references. Imagine feeding man or beast and then suddenly killing them. It's all rather brutal and frightening and will certainly put off those that wish not to kill animals for food.

And A Use For the Wishbone

An old old charm tells a woman interested in a man that she can catch him with a goose wishbone and 4 pumpkin seeds.

She must write the 4 letters of the word LOVE, one on each seed, and place the seeds and the goose wishbone above the front door on Halloween. The first man that passes the threshold will be her future husband.

Well, either way, poor goose!


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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 5 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Oh yeah! - I avoid the orange suits, for sure!

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 5 years ago from South Carolina

      Fascinating stories and the ending line was a funny surprise.

      Voted up, awesome and interesting.

      Hope you have a great Halloween and beware of grown men who dress up like pumpkins!

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Wow what great stories! Thanks, patty for an interesting hub.

    • profile image

      Scott.Life 8 years ago

      That was awesome and ingenious. I had never heard this pumpkins story before.

    • dusanotes profile image

      dusanotes 8 years ago from Windermere, FL

      I really enjoyed your stories. This was a great hub because of them. I especially liked the story of the Chinese cook who kept coming up with fresh geese for the farmers. Taling off your clothes and swimming underwater - or having your head in a pumpkin with seeds scattered on the water as an enticement is great stuff. I do believe he Chinese, with their great stamina and ability to withstand pain and cold could pull it off. Not sure I would want to be in cold water for an hour or two while the birds came by, though.

      Masterful story teller, you are. Keep up the good work.

      A new fan, Don White

    • stars439 profile image

      stars439 8 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

      Another great hub. God Bless

    • profile image

      lyricsingray 8 years ago

      Cool Hub and I can't believe Halloween is almost here already! Thanks, Kimberly

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 8 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Hamrjmr1 - Thanks for visiting again, friend.

      Zsuzsy - lol; mine would likely be an extraterrestrial, but that might be A-OK.

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 8 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      The problem is in getting the right guy to walk through the door first.

      another great hub Patty

      kindest regards Zsuzsy

    • Hmrjmr1 profile image

      Hmrjmr1 8 years ago from Georgia, USA

      This was a "Koo-el" Hub!