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Where Did the Art of Pumpkin Carving Come From?

Mino Orlic, Sports Editor

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   You walk up and down the dark narrow streets, looking for houses lit up with the telltale glow of  Jack O’ Lanterns. They let you know that there’s candy on the other side of the doors, just waiting for you. You turn into a driveway and come face to face with a pumpkin — a spooky skeleton carved into its autumnal orange flesh. That’s so cool, you think to yourself. But why do we do this in the first place?

  According to the official History Channel website, “The practice of decorating ‘Jack O’ Lanterns’ — the name coming from an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack — originated in Ireland, where large turnips and potatoes served as an early canvas” (history.com).

  As the old Irish myth states, the idea of using carved vegetables to keep spirits away originated because of a man nicknamed Stingy Jack. According to the story, Jack invited the Devil to have a drink, but true to his name, he didn’t want to pay for the drinks. Jack convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin, which he could use to pay for the drinks. Once the Devil transformed into the coin, Jack put it in his pocket next to a silver cross, which interfered with the Devil’s ability to turn back into his original form (history.com).

   Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he remain unbothered for a year, and that the Devil could never claim his soul after he died. The next year, Jack once again tricked the Devil by convincing him to climb into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While the Devil was in the tree, Jack carved a sign of a cross into the bark, so the Devil could not come down until he promised not to bother Jack for another ten years. Shortly after, Jack died, and as the legend goes, God would not allow such an offensive figure into heaven (history.com).

   According to a website dedicated to historical mysteries, Jack, rejected from heaven, headed towards hell where the Devil waited to enact his revenge. After reminding Jack of the terms of their first agreement, the Devil gave him an ember, with which he could be marked as a spirit being, and sent him on his way. Jack found a turnip, hollowed it out, and placed the ember inside, turning it into a makeshift lantern. Jack then roamed around, waiting to find a resting place. The Irish dubbed his wandering ghost, “The Jack of the Lantern,” which was later shortened to ‘jack-o’-lantern’. Afraid that Jack would want to enter their properties, the local residents decided to carve menacing faces into a wide range of vegetables. These vegetable lanterns were displayed in windows and on doorsteps with a burning ember just like Jack’s (historicmysteries.com).

   Around the ninteenth century, Irish settlers brought this practice to America, and we decided to add our own little twist. Seeing as pumpkins are indigenous to America, they became the staple vegetable for lantern making (historicmysteries.com). To this day, scores of people still enjoy the Halloween tradition of carving eerie faces and ghoulish creatures onto pumpkins.

   Sophomore Kate Rodriguez said, “The coolest thing I’ve ever seen carved on a pumpkin was Voldemort’s face.” Junior Troy Feinstein added, “One time I saw Batman riding a tiny pumpkin.”

   Whether the artwork you create on pumpkins is scary or comical, watch out… because Stingy Jack is still out there, waiting to find a final resting place!

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Where Did the Art of Pumpkin Carving Come From?