Jack-o-Lantern Legend and Pumpkins

Jack-o-Lantern Legend and Pumpkins

No Halloween would be complete without making a Jack-o-Lantern.  If you haven't got a pumpkin, then a turnip will do.  In the old days we lit them with candles, but I see the youngsters of today using electric bulbs.

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Origin of Jack-o-Lantern Legend Jack-o-lantern legend for halloween

It is unlikely that pumpkins grew in the Celtic heartlands, so our ancestors probably made lanterns by hollowing out turnips and placing a candle inside.  There is an enduring Irish story based on the Jack-o-Lantern character.  In the story, Jack tricks the Devil into climbing up an apple tree with a promise of cider.  Then mischievously, Jack carved the sign of the cross into the apple tree's trunk, this infuriates the Devil as he dare not climb down and touch the cross.

Years later Jack dies, but because of his life of mischief, drunkenness and worse, there is no chance of him going to heaven.  Reluctantly, Jack heads for Hell, but the devil remembers his prank with the cross on the apple tree, and consequently refuses Jack entry to hell.  Thus Jack is left to roam the netherworld, and the only time of the year when he can become visible is at Halloween, hence Jack-o-Lantern.Jack Pumpkinhead - Pumpking jokes

Jack Pumpkinhead

Jack Pumpkinhead first appeared in 'The Marvelous Land of Oz' by Frank Baum (circa 1904).  Jack's body is made from pieces of wood or tree branches, and he is topped off with a pumpkin head.

Guy thinks Pumpkinhead looks like a Halloween Pinocchio, especially when Pumpkinhead is made with jointed limbs.  Will wonders if Jack-o-Lantern gave Frank the idea for his creation.

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Jack-o-Lantern Story of Old JackJack-o-Lantern Story of Old Jack

Original story by Bed Tyme Tales

Once upon a very long time ago, there lived a great big pumpkin. I can remember walking down that old country road and seeing that poor old pumpkin just sitting in the pumpkin patch. Nobody else wanted him because he was just too big and it would have been too much work to clean and carve him. Ah, old Jack. He sure was a handsome pumpkin.

I decided right then and there, that I just had to have that pumpkin. I picked up that pumpkin and I carried him all the way home, all by myself. He was a very heavy pumpkin and I just about broke my back getting him home but, I made it safely.

I lived in an old log cabin all by myself. I was a lonely old fellow, way back then. It was just me and my old black cat, Bumpkins.

Me and Bumpkins go way back. He was just a tiny kitten when he showed up at my doorstep one Halloween night, many years ago. And, do you want to know something? Bumpkins was the only one that has turned up at my doorstep since.

Over the years, I bought bags and bags of candy. No-one came. I was sad to see all that candy go to waste, but more than anything else, I had wanted to see some happy faces around here. I had all but given up on Halloween this one year. I had decided that I wasn't going to carve a pumpkin that year! I had also decided that I wasn't going to shell out any candy. I was bound and determined that I wasn't going to celebrate Halloween that year. That was until I had spotted Old Jack in that pumpkin patch.

I couldn't believe no one had picked that huge pumpkin from the patch. As soon as I had spotted Old Jack, I knew that this Halloween was going to be the best ever.

Old Bumpkins quite approved of my choice for that year's jack-o-lantern. As soon as Bumpkins laid eyes on Jack, he let out a loud happy meow. It was love at first sight. Story of Old Jack

Bumpkins and I tenderly carved Old Jack out with care. He turned out perfectly. His teethy smile radiated a special glow when I set him outside on my front porch and lit his candle. I had no sooner lit the candle and there, right on my front doorstep were all kinds of happy faces around me. I was so happy myself that I had tears coming out of my eyes as I shelled out the candy to them.

Old Jack saved my Halloween that year. I kept the seeds from that there pumpkin and the following spring I planted them in my garden. Every year now, all my jack-o-lanterns are a part of Old Jack and I've never had a lonely Halloween since.

Jack-the-Lad? - Scary Pirate

Scary Pirate Scarecrow

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How to Make a Jack-o-Lantern for Halloween or Bonfire Night

  1. Buy not one, but two or three pumpkins.  The idea is to have spares and to use the first pumpkin as a trial.Cutting your pumpkin.
  2. Cutting your pumpkin.  You have two choices, cut off the top or the bottom, we favour cutting the top.  The secret is cut a hole just big enough to scoop out the pulp and seeds.  If you make a neat confident cut, then you can replace the top when the Jack-o-Lantern is finished.  Tip: Try and cut at an angle so that the lid won't fall into the pumpkin.
  3. Clear out the seeds and mush.  A spoon is best for extracting the unwanted pumpkin seeds and flesh, actually we use a big desert spoon to begin with, and then a tea spoon to finish the job.  We leave about half an inch or 1cm of skin / flesh.  Grown-ups will tell you to put newspaper under the pumpkin to collect the mess, but we never headed this advice!
  4. Draw your face on the outside.  A biro is good for drawing guide marks of where to cut out the eyes, nose and teeth.
  5. We carved our Jack-o-Lantern with a 'Stanley' knife.  However there are lots of craft knives available for making the incisions.  We like to make small cuts and punch holes, big cuts tend to tear the skin.  How to make a Jack-o-lantern
    If you are an expert carver, you can make a relatively small hole, then just pare away the red skin to expose the flesh, thus making a two-tone effect.  Pay special attention making a hole / flesh holder for your candle.  Tip: try adding green or blue colouring to make the eyes spooky.
  6. Select your candle.  We prefer short fat candles.  You should be able to replace the lid as the slits for the eyes and teeth will provide ventilation for fresh air with new oxygen.
  7. If your first effort looks good then you are a genius.  For ordinary mortals, now take the second pumpkin and learn from your mistakes!  Alternatively, now that you have made your first Jack-o-Lantern go out and buy a pumpkin with a better shape and some candles of just the right height.

Advanced Tips for Making Jack-o-Lanterns

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  • If something is worth doing - it's worth doing to excess.  Thus buy 3 or 4 pumpkins.
  • All pumpkins have blemishes, decide how you can cut them out, for example a spot could be cut out to make the mouth, else hide discoloured patches 'round the back.
  • Experiment on the thickness or thinness of the skin, how much you leave 1 or 2 cm will effect the 'glow'.  Carving away the red skin but leaving a thin white flesh can create interesting effects around the mouth.
  • A biro is better than a felt tip pen for making the eye and mouth cut-outs.  Should your Jack-o-Lantern smile or frown?
  • If you can get the angle right when cutting off the lid, you will prevent it falling in the Jack-o-Lantern.
  • Punching out the eyes and mouth is better than cutting - at least for the first few bits.
  • Experiment with dyes, e.g. green and blue food dyes around the eyes create interesting effects.
  • Improvise, nobody has all the right tools, if you haven't got a craft knife, what other sharp tools are there around the house?

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Footnote:
Please send us your tips for making a Jack-o-Lantern.

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