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Why Pumpkins at Halloween?

Many children want to know where the tradition of carving pumpkins originated from. This tradition actually dates back hundreds and hundreds of years ago and was an integral part of the Celtic religion. Before October 31 was known as Halloween, it was known as Samhain, a Pagan holiday that celebrated the conclusion of summer along with the harvest season. The Celts held the belief that there is a veil separating the world of the living from the world of the dead. On October 31, this veil would be extremely thin, allowing the dead to cross over. The Celts used to take turnips and carve faces in them. They would put a candle in the turnip and place it at their window to ward off all the evil spirits.

When Christianity turned up in Scotland and Ireland later on, they co-opted the festival and changed it to All Hallow’s Eve (followed by All Saints Day and then All Souls Day). The tradition of carving the turnip was still a central theme, but they also used potatoes as well. In the middle of the nineteenth century, there was a huge wave of Irish immigration to the United States. While the Irish still wanted to continue with this tradition, they found that pumpkins were a lot more inexpensive than turnips, as well as more available, and started carving faces in those. By the late 1800s, this became a mainstay in American holiday traditions.

When the autumn season approaches, many kids know that it is time to go pumpkin picking and get the best possible pumpkin for Halloween. While this vegetable is a great source for snacks, pies and soups, it is always a great thing to have fun with and inspires a number of craft activities. Many school-aged children enjoy learning lessons about pumpkins – where they come from and how they grow. For much younger children, it is great to give them a picture of an outline of a pumpkin and have them decorate it in any way they want. Some classes take field trips to pumpkin patches to find the best pumpkin to decorate for the class. Let students have fun with carving up the pumpkin…just have them be careful if using sharp tools! Let them play with the insides and have them count the pumpkin seeds. For smaller children, a great idea is to get them the mini-pumpkins. Rather than have them carve out things with sharp tools, let them use acrylic paints to design their pumpkin. Another fun activity many children can do rather than carving or painting a pumpkin, is to have them either draw on larger pumpkins or have them paste items onto a pumpkin. If there is minimal carving, an adult can do that for the child. One great idea is to pretend the pumpkin is like a Mr. Potato Head. Teachers and adults can cut out all the different accessories, have the children color them in, and then paste them onto the pumpkin. If they want to put hair on their pumpkin, have yarn available for children to cut and use as hair. It is a fun idea that sparks a lot of creativity without having to use sharp carving tools.

For those who are looking to carve something aside from the traditional pumpkin face, the internet offers a great location to search for fun decoration ideas. This can include stencils of a favorite Disney character, a cartoon character, or even fun scenes, such as a witch riding her broom!

Kids of all ages (adults too!) love to get involved in decorating pumpkins for Halloween. It is a fun activity that is synonymous with the holiday. No Halloween is complete without one!


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