As you gear up for Halloween, you and the kids in your life may have already found the perfect pumpkin. Perhaps you’re considering a decorative autumnal spread or brainstorming ways to carve up the scariest, funniest, or most intricate jack-o’-lantern yet. You’ll find many intriguing Halloween-themed items on the Library of Congress website that might inspire you as you embark on your decorated or carved creations.
Perhaps your family has wondered where the Halloween carving tradition comes from. Some research into the Library’s collections yields some insight. A blog post published by the American Folklife Center linked to an abbreviated essay, “Halloween: The Fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows”, written by professor and folklorist Jack Santino, as well as the full lecture he delivered on the topic at the Library of Congress in 1982. In both, Santino discusses the Celtic origins of Halloween—including the tradition of Samhain, a harvest festival that included the carving of vegetables and also coincided with a period to acknowledge the dead and stave off wayward spirits—and the evolution of the holiday, as a result of Christian religious influence. In his lecture (available via the link above), Santino elaborates on the vegetable carving tradition (listen around 18:59), and continues with a retelling of “The Story of Jack O’Lantern” (listen between 19:56-24:30). This tragic legend suggests an explanation for how the concept of the jack-o’-lantern came to be – essentially, serving as a lighting source for roaming spirits.
Today, jack-o’-lanterns come in many different shapes and sizes, and these days, they do not necessarily have to provoke fear. As you imagine your own design, invite your kids to help you brainstorm ideas for a collaborative effort. Consider the tone you want to convey with your pumpkin: frightening, clever, or something else? What size is your pumpkin? Will you only use one or will there be a display? Do you prefer to draw on the pumpkin with permanent marker and then fill in with colorful paints? Or would you rather outline facial features or an elaborate design, and then carve them out?
For some inspiration for carving ideas, check out the photographs below taken by Carol Highsmith, at the 2017 Damariscotta Pumpkinfest in Maine. (You can also find more here.)
Let us know how your pumpkin creations — carved or not — turn out! And if you’re looking for more resources related to Halloween, check out the guide “Halloween & Día de Muertos Resources”, as well as the curated collection “Free to Use and Reuse: Autumn and Halloween”. Happy Halloween!