There’s a bevy of sites on the Internet where you can get plenty of help carving a ghoulish or fun pumpkin to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve. But where did the tradition of pumpkin carving originate? How did it become associated with Halloween?
A short history of pumpkin carving and other Halloween traditions
Jack-o-lanterns, the practice of carving out and lighting a pumpkin has roots in Ireland. An Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack ends with Jack dying and wandering the countryside as an “undead”, using an ember from hell placed in a carved out turnip to light his way. Whenever you see an unexplained light in the dark, it could be Jack, trying to lure you to his same unfortunate end. (Okay, we’ve really shortened the story here, but we’ve got more to tell you.)
Thus began the practice of lighting turnips to ward off evil spirits, which eventually spread from Ireland to Scotland, England, and eventually to America. Instead of turnips, people used whatever was common to their locale, such as potatoes, beets, and for immigrants to America…pumpkins.
The broader practice of Halloween stems from several cultures and traditions, which have morphed and changed over time:
Various ancient cultures celebrated autumn with harvest festivals and crop burning, and the coming of winter with bon fires and animal sacrifice.
Secular activities celebrating Halloween include community celebrations, seasonal foods, fortune telling, and going house to house asking for food or money, the practice evolving into “trick-or-treat”. Today, donning costumes, buying candy, decorating pumpkins, and visiting haunted houses seem to be the mainstay of modern Halloween celebrations.
Similar customs to honor the deceased are found in other cultures and religions:
Catholic and Christian religions honor saints and martyrs on All Saints Day, November 1. Halloween is All-Hallows’-Eve, or the night before All Saints Day, hallows being a saint or holy person. The souls of the dearly departed were honored the day after All Saints Day, on All Souls Day, November 2. Traditions include special prayers, visiting cemeteries, and giving donations to the poor. An older custom gave “Soul Cakes” to the poor in exchange for prayers for the departed…perhaps the original treat in “trick or treat”? There seems to be no singular recipes for soul cakes, some customs fry donuts in the shape of a ring, symbolizing eternity.
Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Mexican traditions, held October 31-November 2, include altars to deceased loved ones adorned with marigold flowers, decorated skulls made from sugar, and specialty bread (usually sweetened, but recipes vary from one locale to another). Visiting cemeteries to decorate graves is also customary.
Japanese Buddhist Bon-Odori is a summer festival that honors the spirits of one’s ancestors. Families usually hold a reunion, especially to visit and clean their ancestors’ graves, and the spirits of their ancestors are said to visit the household altar.
Basic pumpkin carving instructions and templates
These sites offer free pumpkin carving patterns along with plenty of instructions, tips, and tricks for carving simple to elaborate, professional-looking pumpkins. Most also offer additional patterns and products for purchase.
- Pumpkin Masters: free Pumpkin carving videos, tips, tricks, and free patterns.
- Pumpkin Carving 101: Includes history, choosing, care, and even burial traditions for pumpkins.
- DLTK’s Pumpkin Carving Patterns: patterns and instructions and lots more on this great site for kids and moms.
- The Pumpkin Wizard: Celebrity patterns and more!
- How to Easily Carve an Elaborate Pumpkin Design. Illustrated guide with text and photos shows how anyone can turn a pumpkin in to an elaborately carved and professional-looking Jack-O-Lantern
- Martha Stewart: pumpkin carving basics plus lots more on the Grande Dame of crafts.
- SpookMaster free patterns, plus hundreds of other pumpkin carving patterns for just one payment of $5.95.
Seattle sports teams pumpkin carving templates
Here are pumpkin carving patterns for local sports teams, including the Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Mariners, UW Huskies, and WSU Cougars.
- Stoneykins has 100 free pumpkin patterns, plus hundreds of other pumpkin carving patterns for a fee, beginning as low as $3.00 for 5 credits; many patterns are just 1 credit. Buy NFL football and other sports patterns, Seahawks are on NFL page 5.
- Free Official Seattle Mariners Halloween pumpkin stencils, just download the PDF.
- Free Husky pumpkin pattern PDFs on Facebook. Dawgs and paws from Siberian Husky Rescue.
- Free WSU Cougar head logo. Carve your pumpkins with the Coug spirit!
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