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Why do we carve pumpkins on Halloween and in which country did the tradition start?

The holiday tradition of carving jack-o-lanterns is a great Halloween activity, but what is the origin of the spooky squash?

The history of pumpkin-carving
William Warby

This Halloween front porches and window sills around the world will be adorned with glowing orange faces flickering in the ghostly moonlight. The tradition of carving pumpkins is one of the most instantly recognisable features of Halloween and has become a favourite pastime at this time of the year.

The humble jack-o-lantern is fun to make and easy to do with children, and in recent years pumpkin patches have sprouted up around the country to make the process of selecting your pumpkin a part of the fun.

But not everyone knows where this tradition came from. We take a look…

What is the origin of jack-o-lanterns?

It is thought that the annual ritual first came from Ireland and was used to scare aware the ghostly presence of Stingy Jack, who wandered the earth once a year. Stingy Jack supposedly tricked the devil for his own benefit, so when he died he was not allowed into either heaven or hell.

Instead, Jack roamed the planet for eternity and people would carve faces from turnips, which were most readily available, to frighten him away. When Irish immigrants began moving to America they brought this tradition with them, carving their jack-o-lanterns from the native pumpkin.

At some point this tradition become bound with the Celtic celebration of Samhaim, an ancient Irish and British festival that marked the end of summer on 1 November. It was thought that this was the day on which the souls of all those who had died in the previous year would travel to the afterlife.

Britannica claims that in the 8th century the Roman Catholic Church designated 1 November as All Saints’ Day and made All Hallows’ Eve 31 October. This morphed over the years into the celebration of ‘Halloween’ that we recognise today and gradually incorporated the myth of Stingy Jack and jack-o-lanterns in the lore.

Top tips for pumpkin carving this Halloween

Although it is a great activity for all ages, carving a jack-o-lantern can actually be fairly difficult. To give yourself the best shot of making a deathly display this Halloween, follow these pumpkin-carving tips:

- Choose a pumpkin with a thick green stem, which indicates freshness

- Keep your pumpkin in the fridge before carving to keep it fresh

- Dab cut edges with petroleum jelly to lock in the moisture

- Sketch your design with a marker first

- Make sure to remove all the pulp and stringy flesh

- Be creative with your decorations, embellish with sequins and glitter


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