Why do we carve pumpkins on Halloween?

This week is a time of celebration and superstition and tradition. It’s Halloween.

vintage halloween postcardBut do you know why we celebrate Halloween?

The origins date back to The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in Ireland, United Kingdom, and France.

November 1st was the beginning of the Celtic New Year. The Celts believed the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred the night before their New Year. On  October 31st, the New Year’s Eve, they celebrated the festival of Samhain. People would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts.

By the eighth century the traditions evolved when Pope Gregory III designated November 1st as a time to honor all saints and martyrs, incorporating some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before became known as All Hallows’ Eve and later Halloween.

Through the years, Halloween has become the secular, community-based event we know today.

halloween-decorThat’s the history of the holiday, but the Irish in me loves finding the story behind the holiday traditions.

Like the legend behind making jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween decorations, which originated from an Irish myth about an old drunk called “Stingy Jack.”

Can you guess why he was called stingy? Of course, because he never wanted to pay for his drinks.

Jack and devilAs the story goes, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him.

When it came time to pay, true to his name, Stingy Jack talked the Devil into turning himself into a coin he could use to pay for their drinks… And then the story gets interesting.

Jack dies. But, because he made deals with the devil, God won’t let him into heaven. Because of his deal with the devil not to take his soul, he can’t go to hell.

stingy-jack-character-designSo Jack roams the dark Halloween night with a burning coal in a carved-out turnip. The Irish refer to his ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” or “Jack O’Lantern.”

Read the full story here or watch to the fun, spooky video below:

On All Hallow’s Eve, the Irish hollow out turnips, rutabagas, gourds, potatoes and beets then place a light inside to keep Stingy Jack away and ward off evil spirits.

Turnip Jack-o-lanterns changed to pumpkin jack-o-lanterns when waves of Irish immigrants came to America in the 1800’s to escape the Potato Famine. They quickly discovered that pumpkins were bigger and easier to carve out.

And thus begin our tradition of carving and lighting pumpkins for Halloween.pumpkin-carve-24

Oh, and one more tidbit of information about jack-o-lanterns. This advice comes from the antique dealer me, not the Irish storyteller.

Room-decor-for-HalloweenBe careful where you display your cleverly carved jack-o-lanterns. The base of a pumpkin can stay moist for days and will rot and stain wood or even marble. Put either foil or a dish with a raised edge under any pumpkins or gourds you display this fall.

I’ve stained more than one old piece of furniture decorating for fall with gourds and tiny pumpkins.

YOUR TURN: Have fun carving your pumpkin now that you know the story behind the tradition.

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5 Comments on “Why do we carve pumpkins on Halloween?

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