The Art of Carving
Poor Lil K, he’s always doing things just a little bit wrong. I guess that’s what happens when your dad is a sasquatch.
Halloween is but a few short weeks away now, as evidenced by the Easter decorations going up in convenience stores across America. This is about the time every year where we gather up large orange vegetables, carve some ridiculous faces into them for reasons we don’t understand, and then set them on our lawns and porches. Pumpkin carving time is here at last!
There are people that say Americans have lost the meaning of Christmas, but I’d sooner argue that most of us have absolutely no idea what Halloween has been all about, ESPECIALLY with regards to decorating our homes with squashes. Allow me to fill you in.
The story of Jack o Lantern is one inextricably bound with the variable landscape of the British Isles. The tale comes in a variety of forms but the general idea is that a young man happens to meet Satan and cleverly traps him, in some way or another, by using the sign of the cross. The only way he’ll let the devil down is if he promises never to claim the man’s soul to which the devil agrees. After his death the young man visits heaven but, having lead a lazy and not quite virtuous life, he is not allowed beyond the gates by St. Peter. The young man-spirit, having nowhere else to go, visits the gates of Hell but, per his prior agreement, the Devil cannot claim his soul and turns him away. The young man faces eons of loneliness, darkness, and cold as a specter in the world of the living, but Satan, of all people, takes pity on him and hands him a single glowing coal to light his way and warm his hands through the years. The young man ends up placing his coal inside a hollowed out turnip so that he might carry it more conveniently on his travels.
This tale, with its very Christian themes and concepts, is a more recent (though still at least a few hundred years old) adaptation of much more ancient story: that of the will o’ the wisp, the strange light found in marshes and swamps that often leads folk to a watery death.
For a long time people carved their jack o lanterns out of turnips, a vegetable common in Europe at that time. When the Irish came to America during the days of the Potato Famine, they brought the story of Jack O’ Lantern with them, but the lack of turnips in their new home caused them to seek an alternative. That’s when pumpkin carving became the new tradition!
It’s been hundreds of years, maybe thousands, since the original will o’ the wisp story gave rise to the particular permutation of the tale that would become the basis for one of the most widely recognized Halloween traditions. One thing it helps to illuminate is just how things can change and shift over the years. In another hundred years or so, who knows what form our current traditions will take.
Maybe we’ll all be carving pumpkins out of wood like Lil K!
Happy pumpkin carving season!