Each autumn, children, and adults decorate their homes with spooky carved pumpkins, but have you ever wondered where the tradition of carving jack-o-lanterns originated? While some European cultures had long celebrated All Souls’ Day with pumpkin lantern decorations hung from trees or placed in windowsills to ward off evil spirits, it took an unlikely idea from nineteenth-century America to turn gourds into eerie faces. Read on and discover the fascinating story behind the modern art of pumpkin carving!
The whole tale starts with a deal with the devil in the history of pumpkin carving.
The history of pumpkin carving, or carving Jack-O-Lanterns around Halloween, dates back to the 18th century in Ireland. Its roots are rooted in a myth about Stingy Jack, a blacksmith by trade. According to the myth, Jack made a deal with the devil and tricked him into not taking his soul upon death. As a result of this trickery, Jack was doomed to wander the earth forever as an undead spirit. He was given burning coal in a hollowed-out turnip to guide his way through eternity. This myth likely inspired Irish folks to carve their lanterns out of potatoes and turnips during All Souls’ Day celebrations that would take place around October 31st.
These carved vegetables were known as ‘funkins’ or ‘Jack O’lanterns and were used to scare away evil spirits.
In addition to this folklore tradition, Irish families would also light candles inside these vegetable lanterns for spirits who had died during the previous year. Eventually, Irish immigrants brought this tradition over with them when they moved to America in the 19th century.
Why Do We Carve Pumpkins on Halloween?
Irish families followed this autumnal legend, carved faces into turnips, and lit them with candles. These root vegetables were designed to scare away ghosts and ghouls. Pumpkin carving transcends time and continents. As people from the Isles moved to the United States, they took the tradition with them, except that they moved on to carve pumpkins during the fall months. We’re glad they did this, as the carved turnips were a little too scary.
When in history did pumpkin carving become a Halloween activity?
Halloween is an ancient holiday, dating back to the Celts of the British Isles. Initially, in a pagan holiday called Samhain, people lit bonfires. They dressed in animal skins to confuse and scare off the spirits that emerged with the onset of winter and were historically tied to All Saints Day. The night before this holiday was named All Hallows Eve, later dubbed Halloween.
Halloween arrives in America.
As time passed, the holiday progressed and changed into a more secular event that included trick-or-treating and costume parties. The celebration of Halloween was limited in colonial New England because of religious belief systems. However, Halloween was much more common in Maryland and the southern colonies.
In America, pumpkins replaced turnips and potatoes as the preferred vegetable for making these lanterns due to their larger size and easier accessibility. Pumpkins were more commonly grown in American gardens rather than imported from Europe like turnips and potatoes so they quickly became more popular among settlers. As people began carving spooky faces into pumpkins instead of turnips or potatoes, the term “Jack-o-lantern” officially became associated with the fall tradition that we know today – one of the millions of carved pumpkins illuminating doorsteps each autumn night!
The art form has changed over time.
With new tools being invented, such as electric knives, stencils & templates, pattern books, and even etching tools that help make intricate designs on pumpkins much more accessible than ever before! This makes it possible for anyone from professionals to amateurs to create unique masterpieces using traditional tools like knives and modern technology like lasers or 3D printers. No matter how you carve your pumpkin this Halloween season – consider yourself part of an age-old tradition that continues!
If you enjoy pumpkin carving or Halloween partying this year, take a photo of them and share it with us using #waxingkara on Instagram. We love seeing your photos!