The Pumpkin: Traditions and Myths

Courtesy of IrishCentral.com

By DJ Nelson, Staff Writer

This time of year, in the United States, people are obsessed with pumpkins. Americans consume pumpkin in lattes (only the spice), ice cream, pie, and soup. About 2 billion pounds of pumpkin was harvested from farmers in the United States in 2017, though not all pumpkins are produced for consumption. It has become tradition to carve them up to make jack 0’lanterns for Halloween, and some people grow them to compete! The current Guinness World Record holder for the largest pumpkin is Mathias Willemijns of Belgium, who grew his pumpkin to a whopping 2,624.6 pounds (1,190 kg) in 2016.

Courtesy of Guinness World Records

Around the world, pumpkins are generally grown as a source of food and animal feed, but in some places you may find that pumpkins are part of the culture, or deeply rooted in traditions. For example, in Ukraine men had a real fear of the pumpkin because it sent an undesirable message…that the man himself is undesirable. It was a marriage proposal tradition that dates back to medieval times, where the woman would give the man a pumpkin as her response. The message being, “I don’t want to marry you.” One theory says that pumpkins are the least attractive of the fruits, and imply that the male suitor was not attractive. Another theory is that pumpkins, when eaten, increase virility in men, so a woman may have been implying that the man needed more masculinity. Although the pumpkin is no longer prominently involved in romances in Ukraine, it still serves as a symbol of political protests and business deal refusals.

Interestingly, the jack o’lantern tradition began from an old Irish tale about a man named Stingy Jack. As the legend goes, Stingy Jack had a drink with the Devil. True to his name, Stingy Jack did not want to pay for the drink, and convinced the Devil to turn into a coin to pay the bill. Instead of paying, Stingy Jack put the coin in his pocket next to a silver cross trapping the Devil in this form. A deal was made that the Devil would leave Stingy Jack alone for one year and not claim his soul should Jack die. After a year, the Devil and Stingy Jack made another deal. Jack had convinced the Devil to climb an apple tree, but while the Devil climbed, Jack carved a cross into the tree and trapped the Devil again. This time Jack asked the Devil to leave him be for 10 years.

courtesy of CricketBow Design

Stingy Jack soon died. God would not have a trickster in heaven, and the Devil, upset that he was tricked, kept his word and did not claim his soul. Turned away for heaven and hell Jack was left to wander in the darkness with one burning coal the Devil had sent him away with. He placed the coal in a carved out turnip and has been hunting Earth ever since. The Irish named the ghost “Jack of the Lantern” which was shortened to jack o’lantern.

Another pumpkin myth is brought to us by Linus, best friend of Charlie Brown in the movie It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. “On Halloween night, the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch and flies through the air to bring toys to all the good little children,” said Linus. He describes the Great Pumpkin as a figure less known than Santa Claus, and like all the children who write letters to Santa, he writes one to the Great Pumpkin. In his letter Linus writes, “Everyone tells me you are a fake, but I believe in you. P.S.: if you really are a fake, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.” Linus spends all of Halloween night out in the pumpkin patch while the rest of the gang goes trick-or-treating. Poor Charlie Brown gets only tricks, ending up with a bag full of rocks.

The following are noteworthy quotes from the film in case you do not get a chance to see it:

Courtesy of TV Tropes

Linus: “There are three things I’ve learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.”

Linus: “You don’t believe the story of the Great Pumpkin? I thought little girls always believed everything that was told to them. I thought little girls were innocent and trusting.”
Sally: “Welcome to the 20th Century!”

Lucy: “All you have to do is walk up to a house, ring the doorbell, and say ‘tricks or treats.'”
Sally: “Are you sure it’s legal?”
Lucy: “Of course it’s legal.”
Sally: “I wouldn’t want to be accused of taking part in a rumble.”

Happy Halloween!

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