What's Halloween without pumpkins?
Ah, pumpkins, those usually orange squash piled high in grocery stores and farm stands this time of year. Large, small, rounded, not-so-round, orange, yellow, white and striped. There are all kinds of pumpkins. Some you can eat, some are for show, but they're all pumpkins, and they all say fall. In the form of jack o'-lanterns, they also say Halloween.
Although pumpkins are native to the Americas, their usage in Halloween traditions originated in Great Britain. Lighted vegetable lanterns have long been part of Britain's harvest festivals. The vegetables most often used were turnips and mangelwurzels, which are relatively small, solid and hard to cut. Columbus introduced to Europe many of the Americas' plants and animals, pumpkins among them. Called pompions in Tudor England, pumpkins made their way to Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Since pumpkins are hollow and easy to carve, they replaced the turnips and mangelwurzels as the vegetable of choice for harvest lanterns.
"Jack o'-lantern" itself is an English term originating in East Anglia in the 1660's, and meant a night watchman or a man who carried a lantern. Later the phrase attached itself to the ignis fatuus, or will-o'-the-wisp, a bobbing sphere of marsh gas ignited by spontaneous combustion. Not until 1837 did its modern usage of "vegetable lantern" arise.
The Irish legend of Shifty Jack adds a layer of Halloween evil to the various meanings of jack o'-lantern. Shifty, or Stingy, Jack was an Irish blacksmith who used a cross to trap the Devil up a tree. Jack refused to let him down until the Devil promised not to take him to Hell. Secure in the knowledge he would never burn in Hell, Jack wasted his life in evil. But when he died, God denied him entrance to Heaven. With nowhere else to go, Jack implored the Devil to take him in. The Devil, abiding by his promise, refused, condemning Jack forever to walk the earth. But the Devil gave him a hell-coal to light his way, which Jack secured in a vegetable lantern. Jack's bobbing light as he wanders is a Halloween reminder of the wages of sin.
Pumpkinnapper, my Regency Halloween comedy, incorporates pumpkins, bobbing lights and things that go bump in the night into the story. Blurb and excerpt here. Pumpkinnapper is available at The Wild Rose Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, All Romance eBooks and other places eBooks are sold.
Thank you all and Happy Halloween,
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