Halloween In South Pasadena: Why Do We Carve Pumpkins?

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SOUTH PASADENA, CA — If you're planning to turn your best find at a South Pasadena area pumpkin patch into a jack-o'-lantern, you may be wondering about the origins of the fall tradition.

Hollowed-out pumpkins, with carved faces and lighted from the inside by candles, can be seen throughout South Pasadena and across the country during the Halloween season. But the time-honored tradition actually originated in Ireland, with people carving turnips and potatoes rather than pumpkins.

In fact, the name "jack-o'-lantern" comes from an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack, who was said to be a mean-spirited blacksmith who, after tricking the devil, was doomed to spend eternity roaming the Earth with a burning coal for light.

"In Ireland and Scotland, people began making their own versions of Jack's lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits," History.com wrote.

Irish immigrants brought the tale — and their carving tradition — to America. When they arrived in the 19th and early 20th centuries, they quickly realized that pumpkins were much easier to carve than the vegetables they had been using.

The tradition stuck, and now people in South Pasadena and throughout the country look forward to carving pumpkins each year. Some stick with the classic jack-o'-lantern face, while others carve witches, owls and vampires into their pumpkins.

"The carved gourds have come to serve as much more than mere decoration," National Geographic wrote. "Despite their often fearsome look, jack-o'-lanterns now symbolize a welcoming sense of community."

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