Monday, October 25, 2010

Take Knife to Pumpkin, Cut Holes

Not long ago, the real estate agent who participated in the sale of our house to us -- back in those dimly remembered pre-real estate crash days early in the 2000s -- gave us a couple of large pumpkins. He and his parter give away pumpkins in October to former clients and would-be clients. They also hire a Santa Claus to visit their office in December, complete with photographer to capture the moment. They are real estate pros, and don't want to be forgotten even among people for whom selling their house is a distant notion.

Sunday was gourd-cutting day. Ann insisted. No one else cared. So I set to work with a couple of knives, more-or-less following the lines she had drawn on one of the pumpkins. Now it has that jack o' lantern face. Its only distinction is a mouthful of toothpicks, because I mis-cut one of the "teeth" and needed something to hold that part back in place. Otherwise it's a completely traditional design.

Of course I wondered, just how traditional? After all, many things casually considered ancient traditions were invented by the Victorians, or maybe ad men in the early 20th century. Wiki quotes David Skal in Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween (2002), which sounds like a good book, on the subject.

"Although every modern chronicle of the holiday repeats the claim that vegetable lanterns were a time-honored component of Halloween celebrations in the British Isles, none gives any primary documentation," he writes. "In fact, none of the major nineteenth-century chronicles of British holidays and folk customs make any mention whatsoever of carved lanterns in connection with Halloween. Neither do any of the standard works of the early twentieth century."

"Vegetable lanterns" -- carved turnip, anyone? -- have been around a long, long time, but the association with Halloween might well be more recent, then. Or unique to North America in the 19th century, since that's where the pumpkins were from (but not any more).

Anyway, our vegetable lantern will be inside until shortly before October 31, to reduce the risk of squirrel attacks, and then outfitted with a scented candle for Halloween. One year I put a vanilla-scented candle in the pumpkin, and got a lot of favorable remarks about the smell from visitors that night.

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