Pumpkin Traditions by Heather Roselle

Who here has carved a rutabaga for Halloween? Raise your hands! The history of Halloween, known historically as All Hallow’s Eve or All Hallo’e’en, has a spiritual history rooted in immigration and religion. More modern traditions, like Trick or Treating and pumpkin carving, were brought to North America by Scottish, Irish, and English immigrants who aimed to ward off evil spirits with their ornately carved root vegetables. However, Jack-O-Lanterns certainly did not begin as pumpkins. In Paganism and many other global religions, honoring deceased ancestors is a pillar of spirituality: in ancient Scotland and Ireland, people would often dig up the skulls of their buried loved ones to then place in large burial mounds. On Samhain, now known as Halloween, they would walk inside of the burial mound and place a lit candle inside of each skull as a means of remembering their ancestors and warding off evil. Human skulls eventually evolved to become carved rutabaga, then turnips, then pumpkins– but the Jack-O-Lantern’s grinning teeth remind us of its storied past. 

Prior to 1860, it is difficult to find records of Halloween traditions, mainly because mainstream religion frowned upon Pagan practices, assuming they were evil and ungodly. However, the earliest mention of the holiday occurred in the April 1836 issue of Godey’s periodical. Given the high percentage of Irish, Scottish, and English immigrants here at Allaire, it’s not unlikely that many villagers would have privately celebrated All Hallow’s Eve, likely with pumpkin-carving alongside traditional harvest practices such as apple peeling and corn shucking. Prior to when Halloween became an official holiday in 1921, it’s likely that your interpretation of the day was dependent on your religious attitude as well as your proximity to those who celebrated, who might have shared their festivities with you. 

In 1864, Kate Stone described her Halloween festivities in her journal, writing, ““Some gentlemen called, and we had cards. After they left, Lucy and I tried our fortunes in divers ways as it was ‘Hallow’e’en.’ It’s interesting that Kate describes her activities in a lighthearted way, given that it was in the middle of the deadliest war in American history. Her tone indicates the necessity of cultural practices as a means of surviving conflict- playing cards and being social in order to remind yourself of humanity. 

Nevertheless, if you’re sick of pumpkins and you’d like to partake in historic rutabaga carving to celebrate the upcoming All Hallow’s Eve, here are the steps: 

  1. Cut the leaves and stem off of a large (preferably unwaxed) rutabaga. 
  2. Cut off the top and bottom of the rutabaga so it sits flat, and has a lid. 
  3. Carve out the center of the rutabaga with a small paring knife. This will be much harder to carve than a pumpkin– be careful!
  4. Carve a face in the front of the rutabaga, or whatever you’d like. Now is the time to be creative!
  5. Use a small tealight candle to properly display your carvings. Be forewarned, though– if you leave the lid on while the candle is lit, your rutabaga WILL cook. 
  6. Display in a front window or on a porch to ward off evil spirits!

We hope to see you at our upcoming All Hallows’ Eve event! I’d recommend you start practicing your rutabaga carving skills now!

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