Why We Carve Pumpkins At Halloween
Why do we carve scary faces into pumpkins at Halloween and call them Jack-O-Lanterns anyway? The reason stretches back into the mists of time to the ancient Celtic religion.
Before it was Halloween, October 31st was the Pagan holiday of Samhain (pronounced sow-in), the official end of summer and the harvest season. Ancient Celts believed that at Samhain, the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was extremely thin, allowing the dead to cross over into the world of the living. Sometimes they appeared as apparitions and sometimes in the form of animals, most particularly black cats. The living lit bonfires and dressed in costumes to confuse the spirits and keep them from re-entering the world.
When Christianity came to Ireland and Scotland, it simply co-opted the three day festival of Samhain and folded it into All Hallow's Eve, (October 31st), All Saints Day ( November 1st) and All Souls day. ( November 2nd) It was a perfect fit and the original Pagan Samhain blended seamlessly into the new Christian celebration. In most of Christian Europe, the emphasis ,was and still is, on All Saints Day, but in Ireland and Scotland, because of the Celtic past and the legacy of Samhain, All Hallows Eve, or Halloween became the big deal and various local traditions developed.
In Ireland children carved out potatoes or turnips as "Jack-O-Lanterns" and lighted them from the inside with candles. The practice
originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed "Stingy Jack." who invited the Devil to have a drink
with him and then didn't want to pay for his
drink. It's a long story, but the bottom line is that Jack tricked the Devil into climbing up a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While the devil was up in the tree, Jack
carved a sign of the cross into the tree's bark so that the he could
not come down until he promised not to bother Jack for ten
more years. Soon thereafter, Jack died and God would not allow such an
unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had
played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not
allow Jack into hell. So Jack was condemned to wander the earth between heaven and hell with only a burning piece of coal in a carved out turnip to light his way. If that is not an Irish story, I don't know what is.
It's a story that came to America with hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants in the mid nineteenth century. In America, pumpkins were cheaper and more readily available than turnips, but carving them and making them in to Jack-O-Lanterns lit by a candle inside became an American tradition as Halloween was enthusiastically adopted in the New World by people from every possible ethnic background. By the 1880's it had really caught on and had become part of the tapistry of American holiday traditions. Today, most think of Halloween as an American holiday and are unaware of the ancient old world roots of the carved pumpkins that are a traditional part of the celebration. So now you know why we carve pumpkins at Halloween. It's all because of the ancient Celts and their Irish descendants who came to America.
More About Pumpkins
Pumpkins are native to North America and are believed to have originated some 5,000 years ago. References to pumpkins go back centuries. It is thought that French explorers in the New World came upon them and called them "pompon" English colonists in America corrupted the French to "pumpkin. "
Native Americans cultivated the pumpkin for centuries and it was a staple of their diet. Soon after Europeans arrived in the New World, they copied their Indian neighbers, growing and eating pumpkins in a wide variety of ways. It is thought that the origin of that American specialty, pumpkin pie, comes from early colonists who cut the top off a large pumpkin, scooped out the seeds and filled the interior with milk, honey and spices, baking the whole thing in the ashes of a dying fire. Don't know if this is true or not, but it does make a nice story I think.
Pumpkins are technically a fruit, not a vegetable. Pumpkins, like gourds, and
other varieties of squash are all members of the Cucurbitacae family , which also includes
cucumbers, gherkins, and melons. Pumpkins will grow almost anywhere, even in the Arctic. and in North America are harvested in October, which makes them the perfect fruit for Halloween and for Jack O'Lanterns.
Pumpkin Links to Love
- Carve your pumpkin online - virtual Jack-o-Lantern from Theoworlds.com !
Carve your pumpkin online and send it to your friends and family! Try it:-)
- Pumpkin Carving and Pumpkin Carving Patterns for Halloween
- Fresh pumpkin for pumpkin pie
pumpkins for cooking or carving. All you need to know
- Pumpkins and More - Pumpkin Facts
facts and figs about pumpkins