Pumpkins have become a staple of Halloween. Every year thousands upon thousands of pumpkins are cleaned out and carved up. The design options are endless and limited only by the carver’s imagination. No two jack-o-lanterns are the same.
One of my favourite legends about jack-o-lanterns comes from Ireland about a mean and miserable old man named Jack. He tricked the Devil into climbing a tree then trapped the Devil by placing crosses all around the base. Before removing the crosses and allowing the Devil to come down, he made the Devil promise not to take his soul when he died.
When Jack did eventually die, he was turned away from the Gates of Heaven due to his cruel and miserable life. Jack headed down to Hell, but the Devil would not allow him to enter either, keeping his promise. Jack was doomed to wander the darkness between Heaven and Hell. When Jack asked the Devil for a light to help him see in the darkness, the Devil gave him a burning ember. Jack hollowed out a turnip and placed the ember inside. He has wondered the darkness ever since, turnip lantern lighting his way.
Vegetables and gourds have been carved around the world for centuries. In Ireland and Scotland, people used to carve potatoes and turnips into faces to scare away evil spirits. Catholic children would carry these lanterns to represent souls of the dead during All Saint’s Day as they walked door-to-door to collect soul cakes. Later, after the colonization of North America, pumpkins were found to make excellent lanterns.
Fun facts because I enjoy etymology:
- The word pumpkin comes from the Greek word for ‘large melon’, ‘pepon’. Pepon became peponem (Latin), then pompon (French), then the English pumpion which later became pumpkin.
- The name Jack-o-Lantern comes from the old English, will-o’-the-wisp – a natural phenomenon that occurs in bogs, marches and swamps that looks like a flickering lamp.
I’ll end this post by linking to a little short film I found on youtube years ago. It’s an interesting and slightly creepy take on Halloween from the perspective of a pumpkin.
Next week — why we Trick-or-Treat!
Do you enjoy carving pumpkins?
If so, tell me about your favourite designs down in the comments!