by | Oct 2, 2016 | Celtic Times | 0 comments


Before it was Hal­loween, Octo­ber 31st was the Pagan hol­i­day of Sam­hain (pro­nounced sow-in), the offi­cial end of sum­mer and the har­vest sea­son. Ancient Celts believed that at Sam­hain, the veil between the worlds of the liv­ing and the dead was extremely thin, allow­ing the dead to cross over into the world of the liv­ing. Some­times they appeared as appar­i­tions and some­times in the form of anim­als, most par­tic­u­larly black cats. The liv­ing lit bon­fires and dressed in cos­tumes to con­fuse the spir­its and keep them from re-entering the world.

When Chris­tian­ity came to Ire­land and Scot­land, it simply co-opted the three day fest­ival of Sam­hain and fol­ded it into All Hallow’s Eve, (Octo­ber 31st), All Saints Day (Novem­ber 1st) and All Souls Day. (Novem­ber 2nd) It was a per­fect fit and the ori­ginal Pagan Sam­hain blen­ded seam­lessly into the new Chris­tian cel­eb­ra­tion. In most of Chris­tian Europe, the emphasis was and still is on All Saints Day, but in Ire­land and Scot­land, because of the Celtic past and the leg­acy of Sam­hain, All Hal­lows Eve, or Hal­loween became the big deal and vari­ous local tra­di­tions developed.

In Ire­land chil­dren carved out pota­toes or turnips as “Jack-O-Lanterns” and lighted them from the inside with candles. The prac­tice ori­gin­ated from an Irish myth about a man nick­named “Stingy Jack” who invited the Devil to have a drink with him and then didn’t want to pay for his drink.

As the story goes, several centuries ago among myriad towns and villages in Ireland, there lived a drunkard known as “Stingy Jack”. Jack was known throughout the land as a deceiver, manipulator and otherwise dreg of society. On a fateful night, the devil overheard the tale of Jack’s evil deeds and silver tongue. Unconvinced (and envious) of the rumors, the devil went to find out for himself whether or not Jack lived up to his vile reputation.

Typical of Jack, he was drunk and wandering through the countryside at night when he came upon a body on his cobblestone path. The body with an eerie grimace on its face turned out to be Satan. Jack realized somberly this was his end; Satan had finally come to collect his malevolent soul. Jack made a last request: he asked Satan to let him drink ale before he departed to Hades. Finding no reason not to acquiesce the request, Satan took Jack to the local pub and supplied him with many alcoholic beverages. Upon quenching his thirst, Jack asked Satan to pay the tab on the ale, to Satan’s surprise. Jack convinced Satan to metamorphose into a silver coin with which to pay the bartender (impressed upon by Jack’s unyielding nefarious tactics). Shrewdly, Jack stuck the now transmogrified Satan (coin) into his pocket, which also contained a crucifix. The crucifix’s presence kept Satan from escaping his form. This coerced Satan to agree to Jack’s demand: in exchange for Satan’s freedom, he had to spare Jack’s soul for ten years.

Ten years later to the date when Jack originally struck his deal, he found himself once again in Satan’s presence. Jack happened upon Satan in the same setting as before and seemingly accepted it was his time to go to Hades for good. As the Satan prepared to take him to hell, Jack asked if he could have one apple to feed his starving belly. Foolishly Satan once again agreed to this request. As Satan climbed up the branches of a nearby apple tree, Jack surrounded its base with crucifixes. Satan, frustrated at the fact that he been entrapped again, demanded his release. As Jack did before, he made a demand: that his soul never be taken by Satan into Hades. Satan agreed and was set free.

Eventually the drinking and unstable lifestyle took its toll on Jack; he died the way he lived. As Jack’s soul prepared to enter Heaven through the gates of St. Peter he was stopped. Jack was told by God that because of his sinful lifestyle of deceitfulness and drinking, he was not allowed into Heaven. The dreary Jack went before the Gates of Hades and begged for commission into underworld. Satan, fulfilling his obligation to Jack, could not take his soul. To warn others, he gave Jack an ember, marking him a denizen of the netherworld. From that day on until eternity’s end, Jack is doomed to roam the world between the planes of good and evil, with only an ember inside a hollowed turnip (“turnip” actually referring to a large rutabaga) to light his way.

Ref­er­ences to pump­kins date back many cen­tur­ies. The name pump­kin ori­gin­ated from the Greek word for “large melon” which is “pepon.” “Pepon” was changed by the French into “pom­pon.” The Eng­lish changed “pom­pon” to “Pum­pion.” Shakespeare referred to the “pum­pion” in his Merry Wives of Wind­sor. Amer­ican col­on­ists changed “pum­pion” into “pump­kin.” The “pump­kin” is referred to in The Legend of Sleepy Hol­low, Peter, Peter, Pump­kin Eater and Cinderella.

Nat­ive Amer­ic­ans dried strips of pump­kin and wove them into mats. They also roas­ted long strips of pump­kin on the open fire and ate them. The ori­gin of pump­kin pie occurred when the col­on­ists sliced off the pump­kin top, removed the seeds, and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. The pump­kin was then baked in hot ashes.

It’s a story that came to Amer­ica with hun­dreds of thou­sands of Irish immig­rants in the mid nine­teenth cen­tury. In Amer­ica, pump­kins were cheaper and more read­ily avail­able than turnips, but carving them and mak­ing them in to Jack-O-Lanterns lit by a candle inside became an Amer­ican tra­di­tion as Hal­loween was enthu­si­ast­ic­ally adop­ted in the New World by people from every pos­sible eth­nic back­ground. By the 1880’s it had really caught on and had become part of the tapestry of Amer­ican hol­i­day tra­di­tions. Today, most think of Hal­loween as an Amer­ican hol­i­day and are unaware of the ancient old world roots of the carved pump­kins that are a tra­di­tional part of the cel­eb­ra­tion. So now you know why we carve pump­kins at Hal­loween. It’s all because of the ancient Celts, pagans and Irish des­cend­ants who came to Amer­ica. Pagans today still cel­eb­rate Sam­hain.


We hope you enjoyed the ‘Pumpkin Carving’ Video, featuring Steve Clarke (above) and use some of Steve’s Techniques in creating the perfect Pumpkin Carving this Halloween! Steve Clarke of Havertown, Pennsylvania is glowing orange and talking “Pumpkin Proud”. He is the world record holder, and owns bragging rights as “The World’s Fastest Pumpkin Carver”.

On December 14, 2000, Steve carved a 27.5 pound pumpkin in a record 1:14.8 minutes, shaving 19 seconds off the old record held by Jerry Ayers of Baltimore, Ohio. He received a certificate from Guinness World Book of Records a few month later.

As told by Steve “I carved the record breaker at Rosemont School of the Holy Child, where I have worked as the sixth grade teacher and also football and track coach for the last 23 years. I also attended elementary school there, and my two daughters attend currently. They served as videographers for the event. My wife Karen serves as sounding board ,and exhibits the patience of Job. Anyone who will put up with a basement full of pumpkins into January (with the occasional rotter)and a house decorated with Christmas Jack O’ Lanterns, deserves at least some of the credit for the record. The school (especially my boss Sister Mary Broderick) has been great about giving me the time to travel and carve, and my students have really enjoyed being part of the whole thing.”

In August, 2000, Steve Clarke wrote to the Guinness Prime Time TV show in August, telling them that he could break the carving record of 1:37, then held by Jerry Ayers of Baltimore, Ohio. It took until December to make all the arrangements and get the folks from Guinness to come witness the event. Steve is a sixth grade teacher there.

Late in the year as it was, Steve was out of pumpkins, but found a local farmer who donated about thirty 25-30 pounders), enough to audition and a few to practice on. For his audition tape, Steve carved three standard faces in 1:00 to 1:30 each, and then did the Mona Lisa in 4:37, just to knock their socks off. About a week later, Guinness. He then scheduled the event for the second week of December, and the rest is now history.


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