It’s the time of harvest and, very soon, it will be Halloween. On that inky, spooky night a round, firm, fully-packed veggie, all aglow from a light within, will adorn many a porch, front yard or window. Of course, that character is the jack-o-lantern.
The custom of using carved pumpkins as part of Halloween festivities originated in North America in the mid-1800s. Prior to this time, the English and the Irish had used carved vegetables such as turnips or gourds as lanterns to light the night during the fall season. An early Celtic tradition included setting turnip lanterns on porches or in windows on Oct. 31 in remembrance of loved ones who had passed on that year.
Lighted, carved pumpkins were used in America in celebrations of the harvest season for many years before they became associated with Halloween and called jack-o-lanterns.
But who or what is a jack-o-lantern? Originally a jack-o-lantern was simply a night watchman or someone who was out in the night with a lantern. However, the natural phenomenon of flickering lights over peat bogs, which were often called “will-o-the-whisp” lights, also began to be called jack-o-lanterns.
An early Irish folk tale ties the name jack-o-lantern to a mischievous trickster named Jack. He spent most of his time playing tricks on others and he reveled in his troublesome jokes. One day he met the Devil himself and persuaded him to climb a tree. Once the Devil was up the tree, Jack quickly carved a cross in its trunk and the Devil could not come down. Knowing his own wickedness, Jack made a deal with Satan that: he would let him down if the Devil would not take him to Hell after his death. Later, when Jack died, he did indeed avoid Hell but neither was he allowed in Heaven. So, he was destined to walk the earth for eternity and in order to make him see all that he could no longer interact with, the Devil gave him a glowing coal from Hell. Jack placed the coal in a turnip lantern and the sight of his light flickering through the night became known as jack-o-lantern.
Whatever their origin, carving jack-o-lanterns for Halloween is a fun, creative activity that can be enjoyed by young and old. Here are some pumpkin carving tips:
• Select pumpkins for carving that are smooth, free of skin damage, and the right size and shape to fit your design.
• Vegetable oil candles will burn more brightly and evenly in your jack-o-lantern than wax candles.
• Try placing your carved pumpkins in various spots rather than just on the ground for display. How about hanging some of them in plant hangers?
• Prolong the life of your creations by keeping the time they are illuminated to a minimum as the heat will cook your pumpkin. Place them in a cool, protected area out of extreme heat or cold whenever possible.
• When your jack-o-lantern begins to shrivel you can quickly re-plump it by placing it in water overnight.
Hope you have a fun and safe Halloween.
If you have garden questions or tips for other gardeners, send them in to firstname.lastname@example.org.