The History of Pumpkin Carving

Nikki Jee | Staff Photographer

It’s time for all those decorations in your garage to see the light of day once more! You can take out your spider webs, cardboard cutouts of witches, ghosts, scary monsters, old costumes and, of course, some eerie lights to hang outside your house because it’s Halloween time!
The only thing one usually needs to buy is a pumpkin. Personally, I believe the larger the pumpkin, the better.

Every year I try to get a large pumpkin and pick a design to carve. In the past few years, I have carved several goofy, scary and happy faces on my pumpkins. My ultimate favorite to carve was the face of Jack Skellington, the lead character in the Disney film “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

Last Halloween, I spent an evening carving pumpkins with my baby cousins. They were all under the age of four so it was great to see their happy faces as we carved our pumpkins.

The smell of warmth was present in the house from the pumpkins as we sipped on hot cocoa and ate our peanut butter cookies. We began sawing open the stem with an electric cutter. We then plunged our hands into the pumpkin and felt the squishy orange innards as we pulled out its guts.

After our sticky hands were done, we lined up our handy tools and tried to decide which to use first. After much thought, we used a stencil that I printed out on the computer about five minutes before we started. Drawing Skellington’s face was easy; it was the carving part that was difficult.

The most recognizable symbol of Halloween is a pumpkin carved into a jack-o-lantern. In more recent decades, pumpkin carving has become an art.

There are many intricate designs to carve and many can be found on the Web. There are endless facial expressions, movie characters, singers and many other famous people that can be used as a template for pumpkin carving.

Just recently, I happily came across a pumpkin with President Obama’s Hope Campaign poster carved into it with the candlelight accentuating its features. Pumpkin carving would not be possible without the right set of tools. There are kits available for easy access with tools including patterns, various knives, drills and scoopers to make the job less strenuous for the carver. The practice of carving originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack.” According to the legend, Stingy Jack invited the devil to have a drink with him.

Later that night, Stingy Jack did not want to pay for his drink, so he persuaded the devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to pay for their drinks. After the devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross. This cross prevented the devil from returning to his original form.

Jack eventually freed the devil, under the condition that he would not trouble Jack for one year and if Jack should die, he would not claim his soul. The following year, Jack tricked the devil again into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While the devil was up in the tree, Jack carved a cross into the bark so that the devil could not come down until he promised Jack not to hassle him for another 10 years.

Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not tolerate such an insalubrious figure into heaven. The devil, displeased by the trick Jack had played on him about how he needed to keep his word about not claiming his soul, wouwld not permit Jack into hell. The devil sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has since been roaming the Earth with it. The Irish began to refer to this eerie figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and eventually, “Jack O’ Lantern.”

In Ireland and Scotland, people began making their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and then placing them into windows or around doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other roving evil spirits. When Irish settlers arrived in America, they found the native pumpkin to be larger and easier to carve as the perfect choice for jack-o-lanterns. Halloween didn’t really catch on big in the United States until the late 1800s.

Pumpkin carving has been an old tradition that will be practiced for many years to come. Every year as Halloween nears, families head out to pumpkin patches in hopes of finding the perfect ones to carve. This Halloween, make your pumpkins look as artistic as you can so to keep those pesky spirits from entering your home!