Carving pumpkins to make them decorative jack-o’-lanterns has been around for a long time. It’s a ubiquitous symbol that tells people that Halloween (Hallowe’en, All Hallow’s Eve, or All Saints’ Eve are also acceptable forms of the holiday) is just around the corner, and trick or treating will be on the books.
For most people, the process of carving pumpkins is a brief respite as it provides them the opportunity to showcase their artistry. It also provides time for families to bond, as it can be a great way to foster togetherness. However, have you ever wondered how carving lanterns became a significant tradition for the holiday? Have you thought about its rich history and how it came to different countries? In this article, we’ll take a quick dive into its history and evolution.
Who invented carving pumpkins?
Historians attribute the tradition of carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns with the Irish immigrants who came to the United States in the 1800s. They determined that pumpkins made for a better carving canvas. Since pumpkins didn’t grow well in Ireland, the immigrants used them for their tradition. They also began to place candles inside to better guide spirits and ward off wayward spirits, specifically Stingy Jack’s spirit.
Carving pumpkins’ key contributors (and evolution)
- CelticsCeltics’ macabre tribute to their fallen enemies
The Celtics had possibly a macabre reason behind carving produce and displaying them. Historians believe that the carving represented the severed heads of their enemies. The more carved vegetables displayed, the braver and more adept the warrior was on the battlefield.
- IrishIrishmen tried to ward off Stingy Jack from their homesteads
Irish folklore talked about the tale of Stingy Jack, who shortchanged the Devil. The Devil cursed Jack to walk the Earth for eternity with only a coal ember to light his way. The Irish carved out faces on turnips and other root crops to ward off Jack’s spirit and guide the way for other wayward souls.
- ScotsScots also carved faces on produce to ward off spirits
The Scots also believed carving faces on produce would protect their homes and ward off evil spirits roaming at night.
- Immigrant IrishImmigrants brought Irish tradition to the United States
When the Irish immigrated to the United States in the 1800s, they brought their traditions with them. For example, they found out that pumpkins were better to carve, and they made it their custom to carve out a few to display in front of their homes with embers or candles to showcase the faces from the inside.
- AmericansAmericans carved pumpkins to celebrate Halloween
The Americans found a way to incorporate carving pumpkins as part of their Halloween celebration. They also lit them up from the inside.
When was carving pumpkins invented?
Immigrant Irish settlers brought the carving pumpkins tradition to the United States during the 1800s. They found out that pumpkins were much better to carve; thus, the practice of carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns was born. They also innovated by adding candles to light the pumpkins from the inside. Americans adopted the tradition, and they began to cave pumpkins for Halloween.
A brief history of carving pumpkins
The tradition of carving pumpkins started in ancient times with the Celtics. The Celtics, known for their warlike tendencies, cut faces on round vegetables for a more macabre purpose. Historians surmise that aside from warding off evil spirits, the Celtics did the practice because it signified the severed heads of their opponents. The more carved vegetables in front of the homestead, the better to ward off spirits and suggest the resident’s battlefield prowess.
The Scots carved faces on vegetables because they wanted to ward off evil spirits roaming at night from their homesteads. The Irish, meanwhile, carved faces on produce because of their folklore. In their tradition, there was a trickster named Stingy Jack. He was a man of such ill-repute that he tried to put one over the Devil himself. He asked the Devil for a drink and tricked him into paying for them.
When Jack died, the Devil cursed him to walk the Earth alone forever with only a single ember to light his way. Jack thus became Jack-of-the-Lantern, and he was considered a wayward spirit. The Irish carved horrific faces on produce, especially during Samhain, to ward off Stingy Jack and to guide lost souls. Also, historians say that the Irish also wanted to ward off the ignis fatuus or the will-of-the-wisp, which they believed was another form of Stingy Jack.
When the Irish immigrated to the United States in the 1800s, they brought this tradition with them. Fortunately, they found that pumpkins made for a better medium for carving. They adapted and made pumpkins their primary material for the jack-o’-lantern. They innovated and added lights to make it scarier. The Americans adopted and adapted the tradition as part of their Halloween festivities.
The carving pumpkins timeline
- 2,000 years agoCeltics carved out human faces on round vegetables
The Celtics carved out human faces on round vegetables to signify the severed heads of their enemies. This also helped ward off evil spirits.
- 16<sup>th</sup> to 18<sup>th</sup> centuriesScots, Irish, and Englishmen carved root crops for Samhain
The Scots, Irish, and Englishmen carved root crops such as rutabagas, turnips, and potatoes to celebrate Samhain.
- Early 1800sIrish immigrants brought their carving tradition to the United States
Irish immigrants came to the US during the 1800s, and they brought their traditions. They found out that pumpkins made for a better carving material.
- 19<sup>th</sup> and 20<sup>th</sup> centuriesAmericans took to the carving pumpkins tradition
Americans took to carving pumpkins as part of their Halloween festivities. They adopted and innovated the tradition easily.
Where were carving pumpkins invented?
According to various historical sources, the tradition of carving pumpkins started in the Old World, specifically in Ireland, Scotland, and England. The ancient Celtics started the practice, although historians surmise it was a macabre display of their battlefield prowess. Experts believe that Celtics carved faces on round vegetables because it signified the severed heads of their fallen enemies. The more they displayed, the more prolific a warrior was. The Scots carved faces on produce because they believed it protected their homes from evil spirits lurking at night, especially during particular days of the year. The Irish, meanwhile, had several reasons to carve demonic faces on root crops. When the Irish came to the United States in the 1800s, they determined that pumpkins made for better carving and adapted the fruit as their preferred medium. Innovations such as lighting the carved pumpkins from inside soon followed, and the Americans adopted the tradition as part of their Halloween festivities.
Why everyone loves carving pumpkins
- It provides opportunity for family bonding
Families can find time to carve pumpkins together and make it a bonding experience. They can decorate their front lawns with carved pumpkins afterward.
- Carving pumpkins upholds tradition
Carving pumpkins upholds the long-standing tradition of decorating for Halloween. It helps people set the mood for the festivities.
- Carving pumpkins is fun
There are no set rules to making a jack-o’-lantern, so it can be a fun experience and an avenue to showcase your artistic tendencies.
- You can earn from carving pumpkins
People can earn from their pumpkin carving skills. They can carve pumpkins and fulfill orders from homeowners who wish to decorate their lawns without going through the process themselves.
Carving pumpkins by the numbers
- 3 to 14A carved pumpkin will last anywhere between three days and fourteen days. Two weeks pushes the limit, and the estimate already includes the assumption that the person lives in a colder climate.
- 12 to 18If you’re choosing a pumpkin to carve, you need to look for pumpkins that weigh between 12 to 18 pounds.
- 90 to 120Pumpkins take a while to grow. It takes farmers between 90 to 120 days to grow pumpkins from seeds. Farmers need them to start sprouting by June to harvest perfect pumpkins by October.
- 73According to leading experts, there are 73 pumpkin varieties in the world, and they all have their uses.
Five facts about carving pumpkins
- People didn’t always carve pumpkins
It’s true. People didn’t always carve out pumpkins to make jack-o’-lanterns. Previously, they used different root crops such as turnips, beets, and potatoes.
- You’re not supposed to eat the pumpkins that you carve for jack-o’-lanterns
As appealing as it may seem, people aren’t encouraged to eat the pumpkins they use to carve jack-o’-lanterns. If they wish to eat pumpkins, they should choose sugar pumpkins or pie pumpkins because they’re the ones more suitable to eat.
- Carved pumpkins last from three days to fourteen days
If you carved out a pumpkin, you can expect them to last between three and fourteen days. Several factors, including the prevailing temperature and preservatives, will affect how long the pumpkin lasts.
- Eighty percent of pumpkins crop during October
Although pumpkins and pumpkin-related products are available year-round, eighty percent of the supply comes during October.
- The US produces about 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins annually.
Believe it or not, the US produces 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins annually. It’s quite a massive haul, and the five top producers include California, Indiana, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.
FAQs about carving pumpkins
- Is there a recommended size for carving pumpkins?
If you want to achieve the best results in carving, look for pumpkins weighing between 12 and 18 lbs.
- How do you light up carved pumpkins?
You can insert tea lights, candles, or LED lights to illuminate the pumpkins from the inside.
- What’s the biggest carving pumpkin in the world?
The heaviest jack-o’-lantern in the world weighed 2,350 lbs or 1,065.9 kgs. Travis Gienger grew it on his farm, and the record was confirmed at the 47th Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-off on October 12, 2020.
- How long does a carved pumpkin last?
A jack-o’-lantern can last from three days to two weeks, depending on the prevailing temperature and climate in the area.