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Jack-O-Lanterns: carved by history

(Photo courtesy of pinterest.com)

Marianne Caesar
Features Editor

Halloween is known as All Hallow’s Eve in Christianity or Samhain (pronounced as Sau-wen) in Paganism, and holds many traditions, which have been altered and maintained for modern use. Historically, Samhain was the first festival of the Celtic year, and is thus seen as a New Year Celebration.

With the spread of Christianity throughout Europe, many older traditions were modified to focus on one deity rather than the plurality of deities, and were renamed to better suit the newly gained ‘Christian ownership’ of the practices.
Jack-O-Lanterns are a traditional practice still observed today, though the purpose of them is more often decorative to scare others or to express one’s creativity.

According to Gail Duff’s book; Seasons of the Witch, the use of candle light within hollowed vegetables began in England as part of a folk practice using turnips.

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Carving pumpkins has created a media presence and people are able to make careers out of the practice. (Photos courtesy of wal-you.com)
Carving pumpkins has created a media presence and people are able to make careers out of the practice. (Photos courtesy of wal-you.com)

“The local legend is that it came from a time when all the men of the village went to a fair in a neighboring town and go so drunk they couldn’t find their way home,” writes Duff. “The women than had to go out looking for them with lanterns that, locally, were called ‘punkies’.”

While we do not use turnips for these purposes anymore, modern practices have favored pumpkins and the presence of squash during the season. Duff notes that pumpkins were brought from France and England to the new colonies and have become a seasonal expectation in America.

Although we carve faces aimed to scare away the living or the dead, there is no absolute evidence showing that the Celts did the same. Historically, they were of a welcoming nature toward the ancestral spirits, which they believed remained nearby.

Author Silver Ravenwolf writes that the Celts “hollowed apples and vegetables, (even turnips) and used them as safe candle holders, which were later used by medieval Europeans as small lanterns. In Scotland, the carved turnips are called ‘bogies,’ and in England, the hollowed beets are ‘punkies.”

Whether originating from folk tales about drunken spouses or stable candleholders, pumpkins have become an automatic association for the holiday of all things eerie and are almost a requirement in American perspectives of the season.

Jack-O-Lanterns were originally carved out of turnips and gourds, and in Celtic practices were used to welcome their ancestors. (Photo courtesy of http://Bit.Ly/10VWVKL)
Jack-O-Lanterns were originally carved out of turnips and gourds, and in Celtic practices were used to welcome their ancestors. (Photo courtesy of http://Bit.Ly/10VWVKL)

The ability to decorate a pumpkin has opened up an entire career opportunity for those who have the gift of carving and have become a focus within entertainment. Shows such as Halloween Wars have become a seasonal dominance on television where the vegetable is present. For example, a core aspect of competition is being able to creatively carve a pumpkin that productively collaborates with the thematic use of confectionary products.

When we aren’t carving them as lanterns or competing with others over design, they are often viewed as the source for a flavor, which is seasonally temporary, and a craze in the land of desserts and coffee products. The next best option is the use of them as a tool used against physics in pumpkin chucking through cannons or trebuchets as observable at Oregon Dairy and other parts of the country.

The next time you prepare for a Halloween party or simply bake a pumpkin pie, keep in mind the many uses the squash has held and how they have progressed over time