Saturday, October 5, 2013

Day 5 - Actual Pumpkins

      Imagine Halloween without pumpkins? What would you carve? Potatoes? Silly, the skin is too thin, it'd collapse within minutes of sitting on your porch. Leeks? Come on, be serious here, leeks don't have any pumpkin seeds to roast. Turnips? Nearly as silly as potatoes...though that's what the legendary Stingy Jack had to use for lanterns way back when, but only because Ireland wasn't lucky enough to have pumpkins. No, when it comes to large, hollow gourds to carve faces into and illuminate from within by candlelight, pumpkins are the obvious choice.

     I think what fascinates me about pumpkins, well, specifically pumpkin carving, is the ritual of it. Slicing open a squash, digging out the innards with your hands, carving a crude face into it, and then lighting it was a simple candle. It stands out among other activities as something that feels very ancient, like that it was once an animal sacrifice and has morphed over the centuries to something easier to do at a kitchen table and with less trauma for kids.

     Not that Celts were making jack o'lanterns at Samhain a thousand years ago and any animal sacrifice association I'm seeing there is a false one, but it's a reminder, for me at least, that some of these are traditions stretching hundreds of years into the past. Just the idea of incorporating something organic into the festivities-much like Christmas trees, Easter eggs or Valentine's cow hearts-seems a bit bizarre when you step back and really review the holidays. It seems remarkable they still have a place among the LED-lit, smartphone enabled, motion sensing paraphernalia. We might spend hundreds of dollars on elaborate animating, blinking, shrieking decorations but what is the single most iconic imagery associated with the day? The simplest, earliest adornment. 

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