As well as the hilarity of dressing up and getting spooked out by watching horror films and ghost stories on the television, my favourite part of Halloween is carving the pumpkins.
The origin of this tradition is not known exactly, but it is believed to derive from the ancient Gaelic festival of Samhain which mainly took place in Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man. This festival was celebrated between 31st October and 1st November to mark the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, but it was also believed to be the time when the 'doors to the otherworld opened' allowing souls of the dead to come into our world. During the feast, places were set at tables for dead family members who would come and visit, and people would protect themselves from evil spirits...
And this is said to be why pumpkins - or originally turnips - have faces carved into them at this time of year; to represent the dead and to keep spirits at bay. It wasn't until this tradition was taken over to North America that pumpkins were used; they were bigger than turnips and easier to carve.
But the folklore of Stingy Jack has also been passed down for centuries. According to legend, Jack was an Irish farmer who made deals with the Devil, tricked him and broke them; he asked that the Devil would not bother him for 10 years. When Jack died, the Devil would not allow him into Hell, and he wasn't allowed into Heaven, so he was banished back to the world with nothing but coal. He used this to light a turnip, which had been carved, and has wondered with the lantern ever since. He became known as 'Jack of the Lantern', and later, 'Jack O'Lantern'.
Although this tradition is associated with Halloween, Samhain is still celebrated by some today.
I remember, as a child, my Dad coming home from work - mother already having bought the pumpkin - and carving it (me watching as I wasn't allowed to play with knives...) Every year, he cut out the classic face - triangle eyes and nose, a mouth with fangs (turns out he's not actually a fan of the holiday, ha!) but I looked forward to it all the same.
Now, DC has introduced me to his family's tradition - the pumpkin carving contest! The whole family get together for a long weekend in October and each carve their own; there isn't a prize but that doesn't stop some from getting competitive. Last year I wasn't prepared, but this year I had my idea in mind...
Hello Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King! 'Nightmare Before Christmas' is one of my all time favourite films so I had to give it a go!
Of course, DC was his usually, geeky self.
The Big Bang Theory crew would be proud!
The full range of pumpkins can be seen in the picture right at the very top of this post, and if you're going to buy a pumpkin this year, I highly recommend buying one from the market or greengrocers; usually they are such a great quality and cheaper than you'd think!