Halloween is coming and is hardly surprising that the pumpkin carving ideas is one of the hottest searches on Google. There are so many free downloadable templates and web sites sharing the ideas, that I will not follow this line of inquiries. I would prefer to review the history of this celebration, which is quite strange for the modern civilized World. Don’t you think so?
The history of pumpkin carving
Without a doubt the most recognizable symbol of Halloween is a pumpkin carved into a jack-o-lantern. To understand the origins of how pumpkin carving began and what it really means we must first take a look at the holiday itself. How long has Halloween been around? Have there always been pumpkins carved? Here are some answers!
For most of the general population it is known as Halloween and is a night for dressing up, telling ghost stories, having spooky parties, trick-or-treating and pumpkin carving. What most people don't know is that Halloween is actually based on an ancient Celtic holiday known as Samhain (pronounced "sow wan"), which means "summer's end".
It was the end of the Celtic year, starting at sundown on October 31st and going through to sundown November 1st. It was a night to honor loved ones that had passed on since the veil between their realm and ours is at its thinnest on that night.
Celebrated for centuries by the Celts of old, Witches and many other nature based religions, it is the most magical night of the year. It is the Witches' New Year, and the Last Harvest. Although the religious significance of it has passed for the general public, Halloween is a "magical" night for all!
On this magical night, glowing jack-o-lanterns, carved from turnips or gourds, were set on porches and in windows to welcome deceased loved ones, but also to act as protection against malevolent spirits. Burning lumps of coal were used inside as a source of light, later to be replaced by candles.
When European settlers, particularly the Irish, arrived in American they found the native pumpkin to be larger, easier to carve and seemed the perfect choice for jack-o-lanterns. Halloween didn't really catch on big in this country until the late 1800's and has been celebrated in so many ways ever since!
Legend of Stingy Jack
The legend of Jack O' Lantern goes back to hundreds of years in the Irish history. The original Jack O' Lantern was not a pumpkin, but a miserable, old drunkard who played tricks on anyone he could lay his hands on, including family, friends, his mother and even the Devil himself. As the story goes, one fine day, he tricked the Devil to climb up an apple tree. Once the devil reached up the tree, Stingy Jack placed crosses around the tree, so that the Devil was unable to come down. Only when Jack took a promise from the Devil that his soul would not be taken away when he dies, he allowed the Devil to come down.
After many years, when Jack finally died, he went to the bejeweled gates of heaven, where Saint Peter told him that he was mean and cruel and led a worthless life on earth. Jack reached hell, as he was not allowed to enter heaven. The Devil also kept his promise and didn’t allow Jack to enter hell. Jack was scared that he would have to keep wandering in the unending darkness between heaven and hell, since he was not welcome anywhere. Jack asked the devil where to find his way in the darkness. The Devil tossed an ember from the flames of the hell to help Jack light his way. Jack kept the ember safely in a hollowed out turnip, his favorite food. From that day onwards, Stingy Jack roamed around on the earth without any place to rest, with his lit Jack-O' Lantern.
The Irish people kept the fable of Stingy Jack alive by hollowing out turnips, rutabagas, gourds, potatoes and beets on All Hallow's Eve. They placed a candle in them, to ward off the evil spirits and keep the Stingy Jack away. These were the original Jack-O-Lanterns. But later on, the Irish migrants discovered that pumpkins were much easier to carve than turnips etc. and switched over to pumpkin-carving. The modern day Halloween celebrations have improvised pumpkin carving beautifully. Pumpkin-carving activities are perused with great enthusiasm on Halloween and people of all age participate in it with keen interest and eagerness.
Pumpkins are indigenous to the western hemisphere and were completely unknown in Europe before the time of Columbus. In 1584, the French explorer Jacques Cartier reported from the St. Lawrence region that he had found "gros melons", which was translated into English as "ponpions," or pumpkins. In fact, pumpkins have been grown in America for over 5,000 years. Native Americans called pumpkins "isquotersquash."
The Purpose of a Jack-O’-Lantern
The primary purpose of a jack-o’-lantern in tradition was that to be placed in the window of a home or on the doorstep to ward off evil spirits, and sometimes even Stingy Jack himself. These lanterns are often accompanied by treats, in order to prevent the spirits from playing a trick on the occupants.
Today, the carving of a jack-o’-lantern is an activity enjoyed by young and old alike. While the majority of faces remain as representations of demons, by the end of the 20th century it was becoming increasingly popular to carve the faces of popular figures or celebrities into pumpkins, as well as using stencils to form more intricate designs. It is also common for young children – for whom handling sharp objects may pose a safety risk – to paint a face on the side of the pumpkin.
Did you know that pumpkins are not a vegetable - they are a fruit! Pumpkins, like gourds, and other varieties of squash are all members of the Cucurbitacae family, which also includes cucumbers, gherkins, and melons.
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