Without fail, the arrival of autumn marks the season of all things pumpkin. From pumpkin bread, to pumpkin scented candles, to my daughter Maggie’s ubiquitous visit to The Pumpkin Patch, the pumpkin is an essential part of the seasonal change. Pumpkins are present in our literary and popular culture, making appearances in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater, and Cinderella. This fruit (and, because it develops from a flower, it is technically a fruit and not a vegetable) is the most common symbol of the fall season and Halloween.
The act of carving pumpkins dates back thousands of years to the Celtic festival of Samuin, or Samhain. This festival marked the end of the Celtic year and the beginning of harvest and it was used as a time to honor the dead. Some believed that this was the night when the separation between the worlds of the living and the dead was the thinnest, making it easier to communicate with those on the “other side.” Celts who sought to ward off evil spirits would often light great bonfires to dissuade unfriendly visitors. As Christianity spread, the fires became more contained and were placed inside large gourds or turnips. Families would carve the fruits and vegetables, placing them in their windows and hoping to deter the otherworldly from entering their homes.
Image courtesy of Vintage Printable
Many early Irish immigrants brought the tradition of the jack-o’-lantern to America, in which gourds, turnips, and potatoes were carved and displayed to welcome friendly spirits of deceased loved ones and deter visits from unfriendly spirits. The Celtic and Irish traditions were eventually combined and the pumpkin, easy to carve and widely available in the United States, became the medium of choice.
Today, pumpkin carving is more of a celebratory affair marked by pumpkin carving parties and family traditions. Come back tomorrow for our take on this year’s pumpkin—carved and ready to greet our trick-or-treaters and to scare away the spooks in the night.