Skip to main content

For Find Out Friday - Why Do We Carve Pumpkins For Halloween?

After my recent visit to the Pumpkin Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor (see previous post), I have been feeling an ever-growing affection for pumpkins. 

While I loved seeing how many amazing shapes pumpkins can be carved into, it suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t exactly know why or when we first started carving pumpkins. Especially if we were not creating blazes.

Though I had never really pondered this question, I am satisfied I could have guessed this answer. 

The answer begins with a legend, not The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but of Stingy Jack. 

Stingy Jack was an Irishman back in the early 1800s. He was a man with a bit of a naughty side and was a bit of a trickster. I have read a couple of variations, which I will share with you now, about how dear old Jack become the muse behind Jack O’Lanterns.

Version #1:

Jack manages to persuade the devil not to talk his spirit upon his death. However, he was not worthy of getting into heaven. When he died his soul was stranded wondering around for all eternity. Jack used an ember the devil had given him to light his way and carried it in a hollowed out turnip (Ireland did not have pumpkins) and created a lantern; hence Jack O’Lanterns. 

Version #2

In this version Stingy Jack decided to trick the devil not just to avoid getting into heaven but for monetary gain. 

Here, Jack met the devil in a bar and managed to convince him to turn into a coin that he could use to pay his tab. But as soon as the devil transformed himself, Jack instead put the coin in his pocket which happened to be next to a silver cross. Once that happened the devil was unable to transform back. Jack kept him that way until the devil promised not to take his soul upon his death. 

Jack died soon after and with God declining to let him into heaven, he was sent down to hell. But the devil kept his promise and instead forced his should to wonder the dark night forever. Jack thus took coal and a hollowed out turnip to light his way while simultaneously scaring those still living. 

I happen to believe that the real story is based on a combination of these tales. 

What seems to be consistent is that once the Irish started to immigrate to this country the story seems to have spread by word of mouth. 

As it also happens, the festival of Samhain takes place at the end of harvest season aka Halloween. It was a time to usher in the darker half of the year when the so-called lines between this world and the next were blurred. This Celtic tradition is similar to All Saints Day and La Dia De Los Muertos aka The Day of the Dead.  

Since pumpkins were native to America, they were carved instead of turnips which folks had been carving scary faces into for countless years in order to frighten away the evil spirits including Stingy Jack. 

It is also believed that after the creation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in 1820 by Washington Irving, the idea of a Headless Horseman with a Jack O’Lantern became mainstream. The earliest written version of this phenomenon can be found as far back as 1834. 

Nowadays pumpkin carving is done just for fun but I suppose if they happen to also keep Stingy Jack away than even better. 

I feel the same way about the gargoyles atop many of the beautiful buildings in Europe. Though they were built to ward off evil spirits, their placement in some of the most famous architectural gems help to sodality their importance in our culture. 

Today in the U.S. alone, over two billion pounds of pumpkins are produced every year.

How many of those did you carve?

For More Information:


Popular posts from this blog

For Find Out Friday - Why Do Emery Boards Make My Skin Crawl?

You know that sound a fingernail makes when it scratches against a chalkboard?  You know that feeling the sound of that action gives you? I, like most people, hate that sound.  I instantly feel like scrunching my shoulders up to my neck and closing my eyes.  I feel the exact same way when I am using an emery board to file my nails. This annoying sensation has a name: “grima” which is Spanish for disgust or uneasiness. This term basically describes any feeling of being displeased, annoyed, or dissatisfied someone or something.  It is a feeling that psychologists are starting to pay more attention to as it relates to our other emotions.  Emery boards are traditionally made with cardboard that has small grains of sand adhered to them. It is the sandpaper that I believe makes me filled with grima.  According to studies that are being done around the world, it is not just the feeling that we associate with certain things like nails on a chalkboard or by using emery boards

For My Madness During Migraine Awareness Month

Last weekend as I sat staring at the blank page in front of me, I was still surprised and elated that I had an entire day to myself and unlike past experiences it was filled with what I wanted when I wanted it. There were a few rough moments but when I consider the previous twelve hours (and the days to come) have been better than the last week. Especially this last week even though I had braced myself ahead of time, I just didn’t know I should have braced for a more serious episode. I am a chronic migraine sufferer for so many years I don’t quite remember when they started exactly which is ironic because I can remember every special event they have ruined. I remember plays or dinners I was at where I don’t remember what happened but I could tell you what I felt minute by minute. It amazing how the mind works, especially when it’s operated by a migraine brain. In the last few years, specifically the last few years since I have been going to the Montefiore Headac

For Find Out Friday - Why is One Foot More Ticklish Than the Other?

As I sit here typing I can’t seem to stop thinking about my nails. Mainly that they REALLY need to get done. They are starting to chip and become unruly. As soon I as think about making an appointment my mind immediately returns to this question: “which of my feet will be ticklish this time?” Because I am a girl that needs her fingernails and toenails to match, I always get a pedicure whenever I get my nails done. And while this should be an activity I enjoy, it often feels like a chore, despite my going only once every three to four weeks. I know; #firstworldproblems.  Anyway, each and every time I get my toes done, as soon as they are done soaking in the bubbly water I wonder, which of my feet will be ticklish today?  Without fail one of them always seems to get the brunt of it and suddenly what was supposed to be a relaxing activity has made me all tense. So, is there a scientific reason for this?  According to most research, yes. While the answer doesn’t