Halloween is packed full of history

A jack-o'-lantern burns brightly in a garden to ward off the evil spirits. John Zvirovski / The Sun

Oh, the memories of getting my costume ready for a night of trick or treating throughout the neighborhood. It was something I always looked forward to and planned for during the month of October. Halloween is here and the night is getting close for all the fun, the candy, the sweets and the dentist visits that seem to follow. It is not just the event of getting a pillowcase full of candy, but it is also about creating your own jack-o'-lantern to exhibit on your front porch during the evening for all to admire. Some are whimsical, others are happy, and some are just plain scary!! There are even kits that you can buy to cut out a scene on your pumpkin in very fine detail for those that have a heartfelt sense of patience.

As we revel in the sight of the many creations that kids and adults alike have produced, we begin to wonder how it all began. The actual term of ‘jack-o'-lantern’ comes from Ireland. It began with a little bit of fact and a lot of folklore. The term comes from the Latin word ignis fatuus, meaning will-o-the-wisp or jack-o-lantern. It is a term used to describe the flickers of light over the peat bogs during the night resulting from the spontaneous combustion of gases caused by the rotting organic matter. These light flickers are also said to have referred to the night watchmen that used to roam the areas at night with their lanterns carved out of vegetables.

The actual carving of the pumpkin did not occur until much later and only became associated with Halloween around the year 1866. Since then, there has been a great deal of folklore from Ireland, Scotland, Britain, the Scandinavian countries and even Brazil in regard to the meaning of today’s jack-o'-lantern.

Pumpkins are only native to North America; of course, since their conception, they are now grown in all continents of the world except for Antarctica for obvious reasons. The carving of pumpkins today is called the jack-o'-lantern as the candlelight inside them resembles the flickering of lights similar to the flares over the peat bogs of Ireland long ago.

Growing pumpkins today can be a challenging endeavor with all the varieties that are available to you. They are also grown for many different reasons for the gardener. Some like to grow them for baking or eating purposes, while others like to see if they can grow the biggest pumpkin for contests around the country. If you are like me, you strictly grow them for size and decorating purposes, but use the largest ones for jack-o'-lanterns at Halloween.


Pumpkins are not difficult to grow, but they do need space as some of the vines can grow up to 25 feet in length. They prefer at least six hours of sunlight a day, plenty of water and a good organic fertilizer every three to four weeks, as they are heavy feeders.

Plant your pumpkin seeds in mounds according to direction on the package and allow 8 to 10 feet between the mounds for ample growing room. Once your seedlings have emerged, thin them to three plants per mound for best results. Once the vines are mature enough to produce flowers, you will notice two types of flowers blooming. There are the male flowers that bloom on a thin stem and are known as the pollinators. These flowers will not produce pumpkins. The flowers that have a bulb at the base are the female flowers and if pollinated, these will become the pumpkins in the future.

Pumpkins can take anywhere from 110 to 140 frost-free days to produce mature fruit depending upon the variety. Most varieties turn a brilliant orange color in the fall time when they are ripe for picking.

There are many types of pumpkins you can choose from in the market. ‘Jack Be Little’ is a small orange pumpkin used for ornamental purposes that is usually about 3 to 5 inches in size. You can also get the ‘Baby Boo’ variety, which is of the same size but comes in a white color. Then there are the pumpkins that are grown for eating and baking purposes such as the ‘Early Sweet Sugar’ and the ‘Jack of all Trades’ cultivars. ‘Lumina’ is a variety that produces nice 12-inch white pumpkins for something different. Then there are the pumpkins grown for the holiday jack-o'-lanterns with ‘Ghost Rider', 'Connecticut Field', and ‘Jack O Lantern’ varieties.

Let us not forget the pumpkins that only a few enthusiasts grow for size competitions, these would be the types like ‘Dill’s Atlantic Giant’ and ‘Big Max’. These are the giant pumpkins that can grow anywhere from 100 pounds and up. In 1981, the largest pumpkin ever recorded was 460 pounds but by 2013 the largest one weighed in at over 2,000 pounds in Napa, California. I am not sure what you would do with these pumpkins after they have grown in your garden. They take a forklift and a flatbed truck to transport these around from one place to the other. I am sure they could make one heck of a pie, but I am not aware of an oven large enough to cook a pumpkin of this size! I have to admit, it would be fun to brag about and show people how big your pumpkin was that you grew in your garden ... .it would definitely be the talk of my neighborhood.

Whatever the reasons you have for planting pumpkins in your garden, you never get far away from the legend of Halloween. As per certain folklore, Halloween is the time of year when jack-o'-lanterns are placed about with a candle in them to scare off the evil spirits that need a place to rest.

Enjoy the tradition of Halloween this year with your family and friends and carve a pumpkin according to the legends for a fun evening of festivities. Be careful of the ghosts and goblins while driving in the evening and remember to move your clocks back one hour after midnight as we begin Daylights Savings Time on Nov. 1. Ah yes, the days will be getting shorter and the season of hibernation will soon arrive upon us all. Maybe I will use that 2,000-pound pumpkin to hibernate in; it sure would make the perfect hideaway.

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