The tradition of decorating pumpkins is generally believed to have originated from the ancient Celtic ritual Samhain, where people fashioned small lanterns from turnips in an effort to both welcome ancestors and to cast out the dark evil of spirits who were thought to return from the dead.
Over time, distorted folkloric accounts told the tale of Jack, a tortured spirit who came to be embodied by the eerie glow of the small lantern he carried. His story - together with that of the Samhain festival - forms the irrevocable basis for pumpkin decorations as they are now known.
History of Pumpkin Decorations
During the mid 1800's, Irish and Scottish immigrants started making jack-o'-lanterns from pumpkins, which were native to and abundant in the Americas. Soon, it became popular for rural teens to carve ghastly faces into pumpkins, lighting them and flashing them in the dark as spooky pranks.
In 1892, the mayor of Atlanta and his wife held a prominent social gathering, gaily festooned with smiling jack-o'-lanterns. By the turn of the century, Halloween parties and pumpkin-themed decorations were already rising to great heights.
Best Pumpkins for Decoration
When it comes to pumpkin decorations, small to medium-sized orange pumpkins are in the highest demand and are the most widely available. However, choosing the perfect pumpkin for decorating will depend largely on individual tastes and creative vision.
For example, miniature and small pumpkins are best suited for quick jack-o'-lanterns, table décor, and crafting with children. On the other hand, white pumpkins, blue pumpkins, and pumpkins of other exotic or unusual appearances make for bold decorative indoor and outdoor creations.
Decorate Your Own Pumpkin
Nowadays - though carving simple jack-o'-lanterns remains a widely popular Halloween pastime - countless other pumpkin decorations are possible. The following are just a few ideas of creative and inspiring pumpkin decorations to try out:
Painting and writing. A little paint, markers, and creativity go a long way in this simple, kid-friendly craft activity.
Scoring. With pumpkin carving tools, transfer pictures, designs, and patterns onto the surface of the pumpkin, poking tiny, closely-placed dots to trace. Remove the template and carefully scrape away the remaining skin.
Decoupage. Use a glue and water solution to stick paper cutouts to the surface of the pumpkin, creating a colorful collage design.
Creative DIYs. Use pumpkins to fashion corkboards, air fresheners, candleholders, cornucopia baskets, birdfeeders, and more.
Pumpkin Decorating Contests
Many towns organize pumpkin festivals, which are often the most popular places to participate in a pumpkin carving or decorating contest. However, some schools, park districts, and local businesses may also hold small, private contests of their own. In addition, there are contests that are judged by electronic photo submission.
In 2013, Keene, a city in New Hampshire, succeeded in breaking the world record of the most lit pumpkins in one place with 30,581 jack-o'-lanterns. The festival held in Morton, Illinois is also notable for its pumpkin decorating contest, which chooses multiple winners at different levels.
The undeniable success of Halloween industry consumerism has allowed modern-day pumpkin decorations to take on an unparalleled level of style and sophistication. Yet, although they have evolved in many ways, they still maintain the same basic principles of family, fun, and a deep sense of appreciation for autumn's many gifts. From backyard jack-o'-lanterns to intricately-carved masterpieces, pumpkin decorations are definitely here to stay.
- Halloween Nation: Behind the scenes of America's Fright Night, pp. 112-120
- Halloween: A Scary film guide, p. 112
- Samhain: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Halloween
- The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Some Pumpkins! Halloween and Pumpkins in Colonial America