The Halloween pumpkin is an icon of the holiday. When the Fall season starts, pumpkins abound. You simply can't have a good Halloween party without carved pumpkins. And every home has to have at least one Jack-o-Lantern in its window or porch for Halloween.
So how did this humble fruit, the pumpkin, become associated with the scariest holiday of the year?
The Irish are credited with first having carved roots as the first Jack-o-Lanterns. They began by carving beets and turnips with frightening faces to ward off evil spirits. But they also were used to decorate porches to welcome the spirits of their dead relatives. Lumps of coal, still glowing from the fire, were used to light up the interior of the carved vegetables. The tradition came over to America with the Irish. Many came to America with the Potato Famine in the 1840s. When they arrived, they chose the larger American pumpkin over the tinier carving surfaces of the beet and turnip. Hence, the Jack-o-Lantern became the favorite of the Halloween decor.
Eventually candles replaced the coal as the light for the great pumpkins. And now, carvers have the luxury of flameless votive candles to light their creations. There's no more worry of burning down the house with an unattended carved pumpkin.
Today crafters have turned pumpkin carving into a high art. There are contests and festivals devoted to the carved pumpkin. And all decorated pumpkins are not even carved anymore. Now, pumpkin decorators can punch patterns into their pumpkins and then light them up for the revealed design. An etching can also be done on the surface that allows a design to be scraped onto the pumpkin without ever breaking through the pumpkin.