Jack-O’-Lantern Dilemma and Historical Background

Posted on October 26, 2011 by

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With Halloween coming up, I have been excited for the crisp fall weather, apples, costumes and candy, but the most exciting part about Halloween has always been carving the jack-o’-lantern. After talking to many of my friends, I finally bribed some friends into carving pumpkins with me. Almost everyone else dismissed it as a messy, time consuming annoyance.

However, decorative pumpkins are much more than messy annoyances and in fact are fairly integral to capturing and experiencing the Halloween spirit. Historically, jack-o’-lanterns are used to ward off evil spirits, originally intended to ward off Stingy Jack in the traditional myths. Stingy Jack tricked the devil into refusing his soul entry to Hell. After his death, God didn’t want Stingy Jack either, so he was doomed to roam the earth alone for eternity. Traditionally, jack-o’-lanterns are named after this lonely character that had to use a lantern to light his eternal journey on earth (Jack of the Lantern).

Although few present day children hear this version of the tale, it is common to hear that the decorative pumpkins are supposed to help keep evil spirits away. Regardless of that traditional point, carving (or even just decorating) jack-o’-lanterns can be a good bonding experience for friends or the entire family. If carving is too messy or dangerous with knives, guts and seeds flying everywhere, there are plenty of other options, such as a found items pumpkin, using markers, or even cutting up photographs and pasting parts to the pumpkins. That leaves adults and children free to be creative and intricate, even without extensive carving skills.

Carving does create at least two major benefits over other forms of decoration: sweet scents and pumpkin seeds! After carving the pumpkin, sprinkling the inside with ground cinnamon and lighting an unscented candle can help warm the room while generating an aroma similar to delicious pumpkin pie. Pumpkin seeds can also make a great and filling snack full of protein when roasted with oil and salt, all for about 20 minutes of additional work after the carving is done. The seasoning could be simple or complex, sweet or savory depending on your preferences.

Hundreds of years ago, roasted pumpkin seeds wouldn’t be thought of as a result of carving jack-o’-lanterns. Originally, celebrators would poke holes into hallowed out turnips and use those for lights instead. Pumpkins were found in the North America, but the tradition of carving didn’t become popular again until after the great potato famine that struck Ireland in the mid nineteenth century. Pumpkins were plentiful while gourds and turnips were less common, so Americans turned to the bright orange squash we use today.

My jack-o’-lantern for 2011: a kitty cat!

If watching scary movies in the dark while a jack-o’-lantern flickers on your doorstep doesn’t put someone in a festive mood, I’m not sure what would help prepare them for a night of ghouls and goblins on All Hallow’s Eve. This year, I spent two hours carving my pumpkin and another hour cleaning up the mess I made, all while watching spooky movies and sipping apple cider, but it was well worth it to enjoy the spooky season with my friends.

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Posted in: Obscurities