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From Turnip Patch to Pumpkin Patch

Frankly Speaking by Frank Jordan

My two years-plus grandson, Caden, lit up with smiles and excitement when he saw the acre of bright-colored pumpkins stretched out before us.  What was occurring once again was the mystery and allure of the Pumpkin Patch that springs from nowhere to appear in orange splendor each Fall before the Halloween holiday. 

The Pumpkin Patch presents choices from small to large orange globes, just awaiting to be transformed into Jack-O-Lanterns that light up to become new creatures in the night, with a glow of warmth after the carving into a myriad of shapes and creatures.

How did the pumpkin and the Jack-O-Lantern come to be associated with the Halloween holiday?  Pope Boniface IV in 835 AD designated November 1 to be “All Saint’s Day” honoring all departed saints and martyrs not having their own holiday. 

The celebration was called “All-hallowmas,” or “Hallow Mass” from middle-English meaning “All Saints’ Day.” The celebration came to be held from October 31st to November 2nd and known as a briefer “Hallowmas,” meaning “Saints’ Mass.”

Irish immigrants came to America from Europe in great numbers due to the potato famine about 1846.  The new Irish immigrants transitioned “Hallowmas” into “Halloween” which became popular as a national U.S. holiday, but devoid of any further relationship to a religious hallowed mass. 

The Irish placed their Jack-O-Lanterns out at Halloween to both beckon departed good spirits and frighten away evil spirits. But how and when did the advent of Halloween become associated with the Jack-O-Lantern?

Stingy Jack in Irish folk tales was a scoundrel who avoided losing his soul to satan by convincing the devil to climb up an apple tree to be able to eat the luscious fruit. Stingy Jack then carved crosses all around the apple tree trunk so the devil couldn’t come down from the tree.

The devil told Jack he would be left alone if the devil could come down and so he descended after Jack agreed.  But when Stingy Jack died he couldn’t get in Heaven due to his sins and satan wouldn’t take him because of his having been tricked in the apple tree.

As Jack left the gates of hell, the devil threw him a hot burning ember to light his way as a spirit condemned to travel in limbo forever.  Jack placed the burning ember in a hollowed out turnip and began his journey; thus creating the Jack-O-Lantern that began as a lighted turnip!

Turnips are difficult to carve, so early Americans began to use the plump round pumpkins that are much easier to hollow out and sculpt, with sizes and faces ranging from simple holes to intricate works of art. Thus, the modern-day Jack-O-Lanterns carved from pumpkins lighted with candles replaced the tough turnips with a burning ember. 

The Pumpkin Patch became popular to enable all ages to be able to choose the pumpkin best suited for each person’s Jack-O-Lantern.  While the first Pumpkin Patches were the fields in which they were planted, today most are found in parking lots of churches, vendors and public parks.  

Thus, from the thrills of children chasing through the Pumpkin Patch laughing while kicking straw and sitting on or poking on pumpkins of all sizes and shapes, pleasant memories are created never to be forgotten.  

Grandson Caden loves the appearance of the moon in the evening sky and thus a lighted “half moon” Jack-O-Lantern was a must in the wants of the little man.  Watching his talented Mom, Ashley, transform a pumpkin from the Pumpkin Patch into an incredible glowing half moon, with gleeful help (?) from my grandson, was amazing. 

Frankly speaking, set aside the horror shows and demons; the transition from the turnip patch to the Pumpkin Patch to Jack-O-Lanterns glowing within to light up the smiling faces of both children and adults alike represents the true spirit of a happy Halloween.

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