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Why We Carve Pumpkins & The Designs That Make Us Shriek (with Joy) 1

Why We Carve Pumpkins & The Designs That Make Us Shriek (with Joy)

Man holding Halloween jack o' lantern pumpkin

It wouldn’t be Halloween without Jack-‘O-Lanterns. The iconic pumpkin decoration is the beacon that signifies that the spookiest time of the year is upon us once again. The tradition of carving pumpkins and putting them on your front porch seems second-nature to anyone who takes part in October’s most illustrious holiday, but from where did this annual tradition emerge from?

It may surprise you to find out how your favorite orange gourd became the worldwide symbol for the spookiest holiday of the year. Once the legend of the Jack-O’-Lantern has been revealed, stick around to discover the awe-inspiring pumpkin designs that will haunt your neighborhoods all month long.

Meet Stingy Jack:

The story of the Jack-O’-Lantern dates back hundreds of years where it has its roots in Irish folklore. So the story goes, a man by the name of Stingy Jack arrived at home one Halloween night to find a malevolent spirit eagerly waiting for him, ready to steal his sorry soul. Jack, looking to buy some time, and notably fond of his strong drink, begged the spirit to allow him one last beverage at the local tavern.

Discussion of two men in pub with beer - 1896.

He ordered a round of drinks for himself and his sinister companion. When it came time to pay for the drinks, he asked the spirit to pay the bill, a fair offer considering he himself would be surrendering his soul in the deal. Jack, a notorious trickster, convinced the spirit to turn into a coin so he could pay the bill. However, in true conman fashion, rather than handing the coin to the barkeep, Stingy Jack lived up to his name and pocketed the coin, then left.

In the story,  the spirit is prevented from turning back into his original form by a silver cross that Jack had stowed in his pocket. Now angered by Jack’s deceptive ways, the spirit bargained for his release from his coin form. After some deliberation, Jack agreed to free the spirit under the premise that he not bother Jack for one full year.

A Ghostly Light in the Night:

One year later on Halloween night, the malevolent spirit came back to claim Jack’s soul, but Jack escaped his fate once again, deceiving his foe one last time by striking a deal to keep him free from his grasp for ten more years. It wasn’t long after the deed was done Jack passed away, and his soul ventured to Heaven where he was unceremoniously denied entry due to his lifetime of debauchery.

Next, he traveled to the gates of Hell, where the spirit greeted him, but he no longer wanted anything to do with Jack. Sentenced to walk the Earth for eternity in complete darkness, Jack pleaded with the spirit to give him some light to illuminate the darkness that would envelop his world for all of eternity. The spirit complied, giving Jack a single coal ember to help guide his way.

Stingy Jack in a moonlit forest.

Jack ambled back to Ireland where he picked a large turnip from a nearby field and proceeded to carve the first ever Jack-O’-Lantern. He placed the coal ember inside the turnip, creating the infamous ghostly lantern that he carries with him to light the way through endless darkness. As his legend spread and Jack wandered the Earth, Jack’s ghost became known as Jack of the Lantern. Over time, and with a tinge of an Irish dialect, his name evolved to become, simply, Jack-O’-Lantern.

As the tale of Jack-O’-Lantern spread throughout Ireland, people made their own versions of Jack’s ghostly lantern using large turnips, potatoes, and beets. The tradition was born, and ever since children and adults alike have carved faces and other eerie designs into root vegetables, placing a single candle inside to ward off Stingy Jack and the other spirits haunting the darkest shadows each Halloween night. The practice soon left Ireland where it spread to England, Europe, and to the rest of the world.

“As his legend spread and Jack wandered the Earth, Jack’s ghost became known as Jack of the Lantern. Over time, and with a tinge of an Irish dialect, his name evolved to become, simply, Jack-O’-Lantern.”

A Deeply Rooted Tradition:

Halloween Jack O' Lantern made from a Turnip

Today, Halloween traditions have moved away from carving turnips in favor of pumpkins, notably because pumpkins are larger and easier for children to carve. The pumpkin’s popularity began in North America with its large pumpkin harvests and favorable growing conditions, making pumpkins plentiful each year as autumn came around. While in Europe, produce such as turnips, beets, and potatoes, were the popular native choice until the pumpkin took over the holiday.

Just as turnips, beets, and potatoes turned to pumpkins over the years, so have the designs changed. From basic faces to ornate and frightening expressions of artistic skill, the Jack-O’-Lantern has transformed from a ritualized safeguard against spirits to a fun and time-honored Halloween tradition.

“Today, Halloween traditions have moved away from carving turnips in favor of pumpkins, notably because pumpkins are larger and easier for children to carve.”

Jack-O’-Lantern Designs That Will Inspire Your Spirit:

To get you into the holiday spirit, we’ve made a list of some of the most unique Jack-O’-Lantern living floral and blooming designs we’ve seen! We hope they help inspire your next pumpkin carving experience! If you’re looking for even more Fall-themed designs to inspire your Holiday spirit, you’ll want to explore our Autumn Design Trends to Look Out For article!

Carved pumpkin designed with a variety of succulents.Image from Heidi’s Grow Haus

Succulents:

Succulents are a low maintenance plant providing plenty of amazing fall color for your pumpkin planters. We recommend choosing a Fairytale Pumpkin, but any size or color pumpkin will work great. Also, you can root the succulents directly into moss for easy removal after the holidays.

Autumn Mums planted in pumpkin containers.

Autumn Mums:

Chrysanthemums are the official flower of Fall and a staple of the season’s breathtaking landscape. You can’t get more Fall than combining your Autumn Mums with your Jack-O’-Lanterns. This easy to prepare and smile-inducing container & flower combination will be the envy of your neighbors and passers-by alike. We recommend using this technique to prep your pumpkin containers: How To Plant Mums In Pumpkins.

Close up of purple decorative cabbage.

Ornamental Cabbage & Kales:

Ornamental Cabbage and Kales are known for their bright colored foliage. From Pinks to Purples, White, and Reds, ornamental veggies off great fall color and hearty growth, especially for those cooler Autumn months. They also pair extremely well with other fall foliage such as mums, fountain grasses, and pansies.

Why We Carve Pumpkins & The Designs That Make Us Shriek (with Joy) 2The Gardening Cook

Mosses:

Although moss isn’t generally used as a primary decoration for Jack-O’-Lanterns and pumpkin containers, it is an essential secondary component to any great design. The moss accentuates succulents, mums, cabbage and kale, and more as you are creating your designs. It can also serve as a planting medium for your succulents so when you are ready to pull them out, the processes are easier than ever.

Potted pepper plants with red and yellow colors

Ornamental Peppers:

These inedible peppers possess the perfect combination of color and shape for a funny and eccentric head of hair for your Jack-O’-Lantern. The wild growth pattern and red, yellow, purple, and orange colors lend themselves perfectly to fall flower pairings. If you’re making a fun or funky Jack-O’-Lantern this fall, don’t forget the peppers!

Jack-O’-Lanterns aren’t the only holiday tradition with an uncanny and fascinating history. If you enjoyed this article, we highly recommend reading about How the Christmas Tree Won the Holidays!

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Brent Richard Dixon

Are you wanting to start a garden but don't know where to begin? Our gardening tips for beginners are perfect for new gardener.

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