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How did pumpkin carving start - History of Pumpkin carving and Jack O Lanterns

dietrikona's picture

Carved pumpkin Jack O Lanterns are an inseparable part of Halloween traditionCan anyone think of Halloween without those spooky – scary looking carved pumpkins…hell no! We all love to see humungous “Jack-O-Lanterns” scattered all over the town….but each time I look at these food arts I can’t help wondering “how did pumpkin carving actually start”? I got my answer recently when reading an Irish fairytale book for my son. Halloween and Irish fairytales doesn’t really connect, right…well read on and you will understand better.

Stingy Jack and His Lantern

The story that helped me to discover the history of pumpkin carving was that of “Stingy Jack” an old Irish fairy tale. According to this tale, Stingy Jack, a drunkard, was once attacked by the devil. To save himself the sly Stingy Jack convinced the devil to turn into a coin, which he promptly kept in his pocket next to a cross. Unable to transform back, the devil struck a deal with Jack and promised not to bother him again. Latter on after his death God refused to accept him as he had been with the devil and devil kept his promise and did not take him in either. Left with nowhere to go, Jack is believed to still wander in the darkness holding a lantern carved out of a turnip.

Vegetable carving Begins

Until the 1800s vegetables like turnips were used to carve lanternsAs a symbol of this legend, the Irish and many Scottish carved lanterns out of all sorts of vegetables - turnips, potatoes, rutabagas, etc. They kept these lanterns in front of their house to ward off evil spirits and bring in the good spirits home (they believed the spooky face scared away the evil and the candle warmly welcomed the good spirits in!). With time this tradition got intermingled with the Celtic festival of Samhain, (a day when the dead were believed to enter the living world) and the Christian festival of All Saints day; thus started the tradition of Halloween and vegetable carving.

Halloween Comes To The US

However, it was not until the 1800s that pumpkin carving replaced assorted vegetable carving. During the great potato famine, a large number of Irish Catholics relocated to America and with them they brought their traditions. The first Halloween in USA is believed to have been celebrated in the year 1840. During these early days the Irish continued to carve lanterns and faces out of vegetables. However, soon they discovered that the huge, brightly colored pumpkin (a new world vegetable, not found in their native land) was much easier to carve; thus started the tradition of carving pumpkin faces and lanterns for Halloween.

Wow! Never thought the quintessential Halloween pumpkin was actually Irish…rather an Irish turnip to begin with. Now that you know how pumpkin carving began I believe you might be able to enjoy this tradition even better. If anybody knows about other such legends associated with pumpkin carving please share it with me.

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Rahul.Chef.and.Writer's picture
Nice article, I never knew that.
Anonymous's picture
such an interesting write up... we are used to see jack-o-lanterns, but had no idea about its history...thanks for the info.
Anonymous's picture
Always loved the lanterns... never knew the story behind it! thanks for sharing
aparna.priya's picture
Nice article :)
Anonymous's picture
An interesting piecework on Halloween!
Anonymous's picture
Here is one story worth telling over some cool, scary drinks on a Halloween night.
epicure's picture
o wow that's such an interesting one told this to me before
thot4food's picture
Wow! great info never knew about it. Now celebrating Halloween will be even more fun!
shruti's picture
interesting history of pumpkin lanterns and really nice visuals
anonymous's picture
Lucky me..........I was trying to search for the history of Halloween, how it started ? and what's the importance of the pumpkin..... thanks for sharing
chockyfoodie's picture
An informative write up.
party.popper's picture
Very informative...thanks for sharing!
Food talker's picture
Good read!
How Did Pumpkin Carving Start - History Of Pumpkin Carving And Jack O Lanterns