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Halloween Jack O' Lantern Carving: A Bloodcurdling Pumpkin Tradition

Updated on October 20, 2018
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

In many ways, music saved my life, and I have the most famous director of the USMC bands to thank for it!

The Book of Hallowe'en. Caption "No Hallowe'en without a Jack-o'-Lantern."
The Book of Hallowe'en. Caption "No Hallowe'en without a Jack-o'-Lantern." | Source

Pumpkins in Ancient Lands and Traditions

I have been listening to and reading stories and interviews about the history of Halloween events. Related traditions took me throug a range of international countries. Having heard about goose hunting with pumpkin decoys and disguises, I searched for more information.

It took a lot of searching, but one strong reference and some stories handed down in the oral tradition emerged that I would like to share.

The rudimentary jack-o'-lantern type pumpkins usually carved in October are more like the ones seen around my community. They have just eyes and perhaps a mouth opening. Some carvers are more creative and add facial details and props.

However, none that I have seen top the story of the pumpkin that hunted geese.

In early America, Irish immigrants found pumpkins much easier to fashion into lanterns than the turnips they had used in Ireland.

Pumpkin With Intent to Kill

An origin tale about the birth of the jack-o;-lantern is told in parts of China and South America, but it is unrelated to any stories about pumpkin carving we have heard of in America.

If you have access to great grandparents' stories, anthropologists' lectures, research universities, or perhaps the History Channel and National Geographic Channel, you might hear stories about vegetable carving. This includes making masks and lanterns from pumpkins, other types of squash, turnips, and even giant radishes.

Given its backstories, the jack-o-lantern is the freakiest of them all!

Freakier than that is the fact that carved pumpkins have been used for hunting geese.

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Some masks used in ancient Chinese Opera, often made from heavy carved vegetables and gourds.
Some masks used in ancient Chinese Opera, often made from heavy carved vegetables and gourds.
Some masks used in ancient Chinese Opera, often made from heavy carved vegetables and gourds.

Inventions of all kinds have occurred simultaneously in various spots around the world, and the carved lantern is one of them.

Certainly the Celts must have been one of the the oldest people groups to have used jack-o'-lanterns found 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, pumpkins were carved, according to historian and author Richard Steven Street (Beasts Of the Field: A Narrative History of California Farmworkers, 1769-1913, page 246).

This book presents Chinese traditions brought to America with some of the first Asian immigrants.

At a certain California ranch, a Chinese man named Hung Woo 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.

Wild game caught for dinner.
Wild game caught for dinner.

The Hunt of the Jack-o'-Lantern

The cook walked to a stand of willows, cattails, and reeds, wading among them into the water of the river in which they stood.

He removed his clothing, placed a sort of weighted belt on his body and placed a pumpkin that had eye holes in it over his head. Onlookers viewed this with dropped jaws.

From TV documentaries, I know that the cook had first spent a little time broadcasting seeds on the river water for the birds to eat and floating pumpkins down the stream in order to condition the abundant geese to their presence.It was all a hunting technique.

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.

As gruesome as this sounds, such was a standard hunting practice passed from generation to generation in parts of Asia for thousands of years.


From several international friends, I have heard stories that this same technique has been in use in Central and South America capture geese. especially in the Amazon River region.

Imagine feeding a living creature and then suddenly killing them - bone-chilling!

Food gathering outside the United States can seem rather brutal and frightening. It will certainly put off those that wish not to kill animals for food.

All this makes Halloween even scarier than before!

I knew a man that bought an orange suit at the local Salvation Army Store, hollowed out and carved a pumpkin head for himself, and then walked the streets on Halloween night to growl at people for laughs. This was before the cult horror film "Pumpkinhead" was released in 1988. The man in orange scared a few people, but was also given plenty of candy.

This looks familiar! I think I knew this gentleman.
This looks familiar! I think I knew this gentleman. | Source

And a Special 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 four pumpkin seeds.

She must write the four 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!


  • Mischner, J. Pumpkin Carving Tips from a Decoy Master’s Daughter. Garden and Gun; 2015. Retrieved October 19, 2018.
  • Stair na hÉireann/History of Ireland. History of Pumpkin Carving and Halloween (Samhain). Retrieved October 20, 2018.
  • Street, R.S. Beasts Of the Field: A Narrative History of California Farmworkers, 1769-1913, p 246; 2004.

© 2009 Patty Inglish MS


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