Former Extension Educator, Horticulture
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Tuesday, October 31, 2017
Happy Halloween everyone!
Today's blog tells the story of why we carve pumpkins at Halloween.
This tradition stems from an Irish myth about a man named Stingy Jack. In the legend, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn't want to pay for the drinks at the end of the night. So Jack convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin to pay for the drinks. Once Jack had the Devil inside the coin, he placed the coin in his pocket next to a silver cross, preventing the Devil from changing back to his original form. After keeping him trapped for a while, Jack freed the Devil under the condition that he would not claim Jack's soul when he died.
When Jack died, God would not let him into heaven because of his unsavory tricks. The Devil kept his promise and did not allow Jack to enter hell either. He sent Jack away into the dark night with a single coal for light. Jack placed his coal in a carved turnip and began roaming the earth for the rest of eternity. The Irish referred to his ghost as Jack of the Lantern, or Jack O'Lantern.
People in Ireland and across the British Isles began to make their own versions of Jack's lantern by carving turnips with scary faces to frighten away Stingy Jack and other roaming spirits. When immigrants from the region came to America, they brought this tradition with them, and soon found that pumpkins were even better than turnips for making jack-o-lanterns.
After World War II, the baby boom and the end of sugar rationing caused a huge surge in trick-or-treating activities. As a result, the demand for jack-o-lanterns soared. Plant breeders responded by developing pumpkins specialized for carving. Smooth orange pumpkins with sturdy handles were released, bearing names like Spooktacular, Happy Jack, and Jack-O-Lantern.
While scary faces are still popular, pumpkin carving today has become a limitless creative outlet. Everything from cats to movie characters can be found glowing on someone's front porch. Enjoy the unique and artful pumpkins in your neighborhood this evening!
For more fun facts about pumpkin history, how to grow pumpkins, and even pumpkin recipes, visit http://extension.illinois.edu/pumpkins/default.cfm