DAA Daily

The Art of Pumpkin Carving

By: Andreea Dibo, Health & Environment, The Pawprint

A lighted jack-o-lantern perching in a window or on a porch, creating a joyfully spooky atmosphere, is the essential Halloween image. A long-standing fall custom that has been honored with gatherings, festivals, and televised contests is carving pumpkins. The perfect Halloween activity to practice your handicraft abilities and get your hands a little dirty.

So, how did jack-o-lanterns come to be connected to Halloween?

Halloween is founded on the Celtic holiday Samhain, which was celebrated in ancient Britain and Ireland on October 31 to honor the end of summer and the start of the new year. During Samhain, it was thought that individuals who had passed away that year journeyed to the otherworld and that other spirits would come back to their homes.

All Saints’ Day, a day honoring the church’s saints, was relocated by the Roman Catholic Church to November 1 in the eighth century CE. As a result, Halloween (also known as All Hallows’ Eve) fell on October 31.

The vegetable carving tradition on All Hallows’ Eve started in Ireland where the Irish carved veggies (turnips) and linked it back to the legend of Stingy Jack, a farmer who struck a deal with the devil that sent him wandering the world forever. According to the legend Jack (known as Jack O’Lantern) was refused entry to both paradise and hell after his death. However, the devil felt sorry for Jack and gave him a coal ember to light his turnip lantern as he journeyed between the two locations for all of eternity.

Stingy Jack’s legend was swiftly adopted into Halloween by Irish immigrants to the United States who have over time switched turnips carvings to pumpkins as they were easier to carve and casted a benevolent golden light. Ever since, we’ve been carving pumpkins (or turnips) to scare spirits away on Halloween.
The candles or lanterns were thought to symbolize ghosts or other supernatural beings, or they were intended to fend off bad spirits. Additionally, it provided travelers and those in good spirits with directions to their homes.

Carving Techniques

There are many pumpkin carving enthusiasts on Halloween from beginners to those who have developed a career in carving and offer tips on how to carve and maintain long lasting masterpieces. No matter what category you are in, here are some basic techniques and tools needed.

Whether you carve words or scary faces the most important is to draw it first especially if you are a beginner. You should always aim to make a round whole either at the top or bottom of the pumpkin so you can remove the inside seeds. Once cleaned from inside the pumpkin is ready to be carved (see Tips from advanced carvers and Carving tools) for the best results.

Tips from advanced carvers:

Fresh pumpkins should feel solid when touched. Avoid them if they have soft patches or parts that have sunken places because rotting has already begun. High-quality pumpkins are often rich orange in color and have a firm, rigid rind.

  1. The secret to carving the perfect pumpkin starts with cutting a hole in the bottom of the pumpkin rather than the top. This will also help make your pumpkin last longer. Keeping the steam at the top adds character to the pumpkin.
  2. It’s usually a good idea to plan out your design before getting started when creating anything, especially when working with materials where there is no turning back after a cut has been done! Draw the pattern on the pumpkin using a pencil, ballpoint pen, or tracing paper before carving.
  3. The kids’ pumpkin carving sets’ little saw-style knives work best for carving into your design. The blades are flexible and the size and handling make it simple to produce rounded shapes and round corners.
  4. Clean the exterior with a mild bleach solution before carving. This will get rid of the decay-causing microorganisms. Make sure to remove any pulp from the pumpkin when cleaning it out to avoid attracting insects. After carving, clean both the interior and outside surfaces. If you live in a warmer region, keep your carved pumpkin out of direct sunlight and store it in the refrigerator for up to ten days while not in use.

Carving tools

  1. Use small paring knives to carve patterns into the pumpkin.
  2. Another excellent source is pumpkin carving kits designed exclusively for children or adults.
  3. Knives for carving pumpkins that run on batteries may also finish even the most complex patterns quickly.

With Halloween just around the corner, the best is to let your imagination take over and enjoy the process of carving a pumpkin with your family and friends. Enjoy!

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