Halloween, it’s a curious festival, especially here in Europe where it’s still very much celebrated with restraint compared to the US where it attracts the same kind of mass hysteria only really reserved for Christmas in Europe. All very strange really seeing as it’s a festival with it’s origins firmly rooted in European Celtic and Christian tradition.
Explanations as to the exact nature of the origins of Halloween vary greatly, but many scholars agree that it is derived from the of the end of summer or ‘Samhain’ festival of ancient Celtic origin, one of the key dates on the Medieval Gaelic calendar. As it marked the move from Summer to Winter, the darker and colder time of year, it was believed that this facilitated the arrival of spirits into our world. Somewhere along the line this belief led to people imitating or disguising themselves from the spirits through costume, and playing tricks on one another, hence the precursor to modern ‘Trick or Treating’.
Other’s believe that there is a more Christian influence to the tradition, and that Halloween as ‘All Hallows Eve’ it was a day that recently departed souls could come back to Earth and exact their revenge on people who had failed them in life. Again with the tradition of costume and mischief being a means for people to confuse the souls.
The custom of carving root vegetables into lanterns with grotesque faces on them seems to date back to the traditions of Celtic Scotland and Ireland, again as a means to further reinforce the confusion of spirits and the trickery of others, typically turnips were used. By the time Europeans had begun to colonise North America the more readily available pumpkin was favoured.
The term ‘Jack O’ Lantern’ to describe a carved pumpkin seems to originate from a piece of Irish Christian folklore in relation to a sinner ‘Jack’ who is denied entry into both heaven and hell, and on trying to enter hell the Devil throws a piece of burning coal at him which he places inside a carved out turnip. Thereafter Jack wanders looking for somewhere to finally rest.
Today carving and crafting Jack O’ Lanterns is ever popular, and there seems to be something inherently satisfying about doing it, so much so that some people choose to take it very seriously, carving the most ornate designs to achieve truly spectacular results. One technique involves carving different elements of the design to different depths, thus giving different intensities of light when the candle is placed inside.
Really the only limit is your imagination, try and come up with something truly original, and of course scary!
Carving to different depths will give interesting and varied results!