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Released: October 25, 2001

Carved Pumpkins a Celtic Tradition

MANHATTAN, Kan. Ė A miser named Jack came up with the first lighted pumpkin "faces," according to folklore. Jackís soul was in peril. He escaped, however, confusing the Devil with lamps placed in a crowd of carved pumpkins. Ergo ... Jack-o-lanterns.

But history shows that carving fall vegetables and lighting them to create scary scenes was a common practice among the ancient Celts of the British Isles, said Chuck Marr, a Kansas State University Research and Extension horticulturist.

"The Celts had a fall festival in early November, to signal the approach of winter," he said. "The festival probably took on its rather ghoulish slant because of Novemberís shorter days, as well as the upcoming cold, dark season. Celebrants even dressed up in ghoulish costumes.

"When the Romans conquered Britain and brought the Christian religionís Nov. 1 All Saints Day, the Celts started celebrating both. They simply moved their winter festival to All Saints Day Eve, now called Halloween."

Marr says pumpkinís holiday use hasnít changed much since then. But several "modern" inventions have helped make them safer:

* Votive candles provide a contained, short light thatís less likely to become a fire risk.

* Retailers now offer pumpkin kits with special serrated knives that carve pumpkins easily, but are not sharp.

* Retailers have found paints that can create even more colorful faces without cutting through the pumpkinís rind.

"Once a pumpkinís been carved, it begins to soften. It usually rots in just a few days, although you can extend its life a little if you store it in a cool, humid location when not in use," Marr said.


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by:
Kathleen Ward, Communications Specialist
K-State Research& Extension News

Additional Information:
Chuck Marr is at 785-532-1441