Why don’t we still carve turnips instead of pumpkins?

Explore the history of Halloween and jack-o-lanterns in these books at Everett Public Library.

Carol Greene’s children’s book “The Story of Halloween” tells the story of Jack-o-the-lantern and how colonial Americans used pumpkins to carve instead of turnips.

Carol Greene’s children’s book “The Story of Halloween” tells the story of Jack-o-the-lantern and how colonial Americans used pumpkins to carve instead of turnips.

By Linda, Everett Public Library staff

Did you know the original jack-o-lanterns were turnips?

I found this information on page 31 in the book Death Makes a Holiday by David Skal. Skal explains how ‘Jack’ was a trickster who offended both God and the Devil and was not allowed into Heaven or Hell upon his death. The Devil grudgingly tossed him a piece of coal. Jack then put it into a carved turnip to light his nightly walk on earth awaiting judgment day, hence, he was Jack-o-the-lantern.

The children’s book The Story of Halloween by Carol Greene tells the story of Jack-o-the-lantern as well and explains how colonial Americans used pumpkins to carve instead of turnips, because they were more plentiful and easier to carve.

Halloween began as Samhain which means ‘summer’s end.’ The Celts celebrated Samhain by putting out their fires and taking embers from a huge bonfire the Druids would make, believing the new fires would protect them during the coming year.

While this is different from the way we celebrate now, our celebration traditions are steeped in history. Bobbing for apples honors Ponoma, the goddess of fruits and was a way to thank her and encourage a good crop for the coming year. Costumes were worn to hide the faces of children playing pranks and children begging for soul-cakes door to door were the beginnings of trick-or-treating.

Trick-or-treaters still go out every year looking for their share of goodies. Sweet by Claudia Davila tells about the history of candy. You will probably find that your favorite treat is older than you are!

Sweet Home Alaska by Carole Etsby Dagg tells the story of a little girl named Terpsichore whose family moved to Alaska during the great depression. She sets out to win a contest for growing the largest pumpkin. Her pumpkin turns out to weigh 293 pounds! Wouldn’t that be something to carve!

Extreme Pumpkin Carving by Vic Hood and Jack A Williams gives this endearing art form a whole new twist. Even if you don’t care for their designs, you will definitely want to try some of their techniques.

Finally, Jan Brett wrote a wonderful little story called The Turnip. Badger Girl finds a turnip that is so big no one can pull it up. All the animals in this story have their own recipes they want to make with the turnip. In the end, they all share it. If I was going to carve a turnip, this is the one I would choose!

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