Without a doubt the most recognizable symbol of
Halloween is a pumpkin carved into a jack-o-lantern. To understand the origins of how
pumpkin carving began and what it really means we must first take a look at the holiday
itself. How long has Halloween been around? Have there always been pumpkins carved? Here
are some answers!
For most of the general population
this holiday is known as Halloween
and is a night for dressing up, telling ghost stories, having spooky parties,
trick-or-treating and pumpkin carving. What most people don't know is that Halloween is
actually based on an ancient Celtic holiday known as Samhain (pronounced "sow
wan"), which means "summer's end".
It was the end of the Celtic year, starting at sundown on October 31st and
going through to sundown November 1st. It was a night to honor loved ones that had passed
on since the veil between their realm and ours is at it's thinnest on that night.
Celebrated for centuries by the Celts of old, Witches and
many other nature based religions, it is the most magical night of the year. It is the
Witches' New Year, and the Last Harvest. Although the religious significance of it has
passed for the general public, Halloween is a "magical" night for all!
On this magical night, glowing jack-o-lanterns, carved from
turnips or gourds, were set on porches and in windows to welcome deceased loved ones, but
also to act as protection against malevolent spirits. Burning lumps of coal were used
inside as a source of light, later to be replaced by candles.
When European settlers, particularly the Irish, arrived in American they
found the native pumpkin to be larger and easier to carve, it seemed the perfect choice for
the jack-o-lanterns. Halloween didn't really catch on big in this country until the late
1800's and has been celebrated in so many ways ever since!
Pumpkins are indigenous to the western hemisphere and were
completely unknown in Europe before the time of Columbus. In 1584, the French explorer
Jacques Cartier reported from the St. Lawrence region that he had found "gros
melons", which was translated into English as "ponpions," or
pumpkins. In fact, pumpkins have been grown in America for over 5,000 years. Native
Americans called pumpkins "isquotersquash."
you know that pumpkins are not a vegetable - they are considered a fruit! Pumpkins, like gourds, and
other varieties of squash are all members of the Cucurbitacae family, which also includes
cucumbers, gherkins, and melons.
The Legend of
Irish lore, Jack was a stingy drunkard, who tricked the Devil
into climbing an apple tree for a juicy apple and then quickly
cut the sign of the cross into the tree trunk, preventing the
Devil from coming down.
Jack made the
Devil swear that he wouldn't come after his soul in any way. The
Devil promised. However, this did not prevent Jack from dying.
When he arrived at the gates of heaven, he was turned away
because he was a stingy, mean drunk.
Desperate for a
resting place, he went to the Devil. The Devil, true to his
word, turned him away. "But where can I go?" pleaded Jack. "Back
where you came from," said the Devil. The night was dark and the
way was long, and the Devil tossed him a lighted coal from the
fire of Hell.
Jack, who was
eating a turnip at the time, placed the coal inside and used it
to light his way. Since that day, he has traveled the world over
with his Jack-O'-Lantern in search of a place to rest. Irish
children carved out turnips and potatoes to light the night on