The truth behind Halloween pumpkin carving starts with Halloween Dark History which had set the foundations for the custom, and the old Irish folk tale of Stingy Jack that gave form to the tradition. The original name of Halloween was Samhain and its observance was recorded more than 800 years B.C.
How Did Samhain Look Like?
Samhain was celebrated on the night of 31st October which was, according to the old Celts, the new year’s eve. The eve was so special because summer turned to winter. Back in the old days, people were much more dependant on conditions imposed by nature. This means that winters were way harder to survive and were featured by deaths caused by starvation, diseases, and fighting for resources in the case of bad crops. Since winter was associated with death and mortality old Celts believed that on the new year’s eve the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead is the tiniest. Due to this fact, they thought that the souls of the dead rise from the underworld and barge into our world. Those abominations were known for making problems such as destroying crops and interfering in everyday lives. In order to repel ghosts and spirits, people carved turnips and set them on the edges of their doorsteps and windows. But this still doesn’t explain why they chose to carve turnips and how is that related to pumpkins?
Why Did Old Celts Carve Turnips On Halloween?
Old Celts used to carve turnips because of the old Irish folktale of Stingy Jack. This story is multiple centuries old and has many versions. It remains unclear when was the story first told and who was the author.
The Story Of Stingy Jack
Stingy Jack was a blacksmith by profession. However, what made him famous were not the swords and axes he forged but his capability to talk his way out of any situation.
As a true drunkard, Jack was able to drink for twenty people and more. But as a legendary trickster, he never paid for a single beverage that he drank. People spoke of his sweet talk and gave him a nickname of a silver tongue. With time, rumors went so far that people started speaking Jack is so cunny he would be able to trick the devil himself. Stories of the trickster eventually reached the prince of hell who got curious about the mortal. At first, he didn’t believe that the human soul could be so malevolent. However, since the stories continued, the devil decided to visit the world of the living and check Jack for himself because if the stories were true, he wanted to acquire such a precious soul as soon as possible. One night, the devil emerged near the tavern in which Jack was drinking and laid down next to the road, playing dead. Midnight had passed when Jack went out of the tavern and started sauntering across the road. After some time he stumbled upon what he considered to be a corpse. A few moments later the devil jumped on his feet and took a deep look into Jack’s eyes. They don’t say for anything that eyes are mirrors of the soul. The devil looked deep and realized that Jack was the greatest trickster that ever lived.
And talking his way out of bills that were supposed to be paid was the least of his wrongdoings. Jack cut the metal when forging weapons and used tin instead. It allowed him to produce 6-7 swords at the cost of one. But such doings eventually led to the deaths of many brave and honorable warriors betrayed by their blades which cracked in the collision of metal. Jack had no remorse or intention to change his ways of living. He was a true Devil’s jewel.
The dark prince announced that his final hour had come and that they were going to travel to hell right away. Jack agreed but begged for one last wish. He wanted to go back to the tavern and have one last drink. Devil agreed. He even proposed one drink to turn into twenty and ordered a bulk of alcoholic beverages. When Jack was done the devil said it’s time to go. However, Jack had another request. He wanted to pay and at least once in his life clear his bills. Yet he had no many and asked devil to turn into a gold coin so he can pay. The dark prince agreed. However, after he transformed into the coin he didn’t end up on the palm of the bartender but in Jack’s pocket. Right next to the crucifix which disallowed him to change shape. Devil was forced to bargain and accept to leave Jack alone for the next ten years.
Jack continued to live in the same manner as before. Ten years have passed and the devil appeared once more. This time there was no place for trickery. He requested that the drunkard comes immediately. But Jeck begged to eat one last apple. And the tree was right next to the entrance of the tavern. The devil agreed. The dark prince even accepted to climb on a tree and pick fruit for him as Jack’s age took its tribute and Jack couldn’t do it himself. But when the devil wanted to go down he realized that the tree is encircled by the crucifixes. He was trapped once again and had to bargain. This time he promised to let Jack for good.
And so, free of any worries, Jack lived a life of joy built on his trickster acts. When he died he went straight to the gates of heaven. But Saint Peter refused to let him in. He said that not having to go to hell doesn’t, by any means, mean that he is allowed to enter heaven. Having nowhere else to go Jack turned towards the dark part of the afterlife. However, when he got in front of hell the devil couldn’t let him in as that would mean breaking the bargain. Jack remained trapped in the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Devil felt pity for Jack and gave him a little ember. To preserve flames, Jack took a turnip and carved a hole in its top. There he put his ember and went into the veil.
How Pumpkins Pushed Out Turnips From Halloween?
In Ireland, the time period between 1845 and 1849 was remembered as a great hunger. A certain type of bacteria made great damage to their crops and caused mass starvation. Many Irishmen migrated to America in pursuit of survival. They brought their customs with them. Halloween was one of them. However, soils of the New World were plentiful with pumpkins which, due to having a greater size, turned out to be easier for carving. It is how turnips were pushed out from Halloween tradition.
What Is The Goal of Pumpkin Carving?
In modern days, pumpkins are carved for purposes of having a good time. In the old times, the goal was to make them look scary in order to repel ghosts away. And of course, the malevolent soul of Stingy Jack.