The end of the month brings with it Halloween – a celebration that is relatively new on the Maltese shores, though gaining ground. Originally a Celtic feast, celebrated by the Druids over 2,000 years ago, Halloween eventually made its way over to the USA in the 1800s with the Irish and Scottish emigrants.
The Jack o’Latern – the pumpkin with a demonic face carved into it – has become a symbol of the holiday. It gained popularity when the Irish carved turnips or beets and placed a candle inside to symbolise the souls of the dead according to the legend of Jack o’Lantern. Demonic faces were carved into the pumpkins to keep away evil spirits. It was said that if a demon encountered something as fiendish as himself he would turn and run in terror thus sparing the household from the ravages of the dark entity.
Today the symbolism is much less dark. Placing a Jack o’Latern outside your house gives the trick or treating kids an idea of who is up for Halloween (and likely to have plenty of candy for them) and those who aren’t. If you want part of the Halloween action this year, make your own Jack o’Lantern and display it outside your home.
Carve Your Own Jack O’Lantern
Making your own Jack o’Lantern is creative and fun – the perfect activity for kids to get messy. follow some simple steps to ensure you get the best results out of your pumpkin.
1. Pick the Right Pumpkin
Choose a pumpkin with a smooth front, free from blemishes, to make sure you have plenty of room to carve the face out on.
2. Clear a Workspace
Make sure you have plenty of room for this job because it does get messy. Line your working area with old newspaper to make clearing up easy. If working with young kids, get them to wear an apron.
3. Choose the Right Face
The internet is full of ideas for faces, where you can download plenty of stencils. Alternatively, if you are creative, just pick up a black marker and draw the face onto the front of the pumpkin.
4. Cut the Top Off and Scoop Out the Flesh
Before you get excited about carving the face into the pumpkin you need to start by taking the flesh out. Cut a circle around the top stem, making sure your knife is at an angle, so that when you put the top back on it doesn’t fall through to the bottom. Scoop out the seeds, (you can remove the seeds from the stringy bits and toast them to use on top of soups, salads or as snacks), and remove as much of the flesh as you can (save these for plenty of pumpkin recipes throughout the following week).
5. Carve the Face
Once you have drawn the face onto the pumpkin (using a stencil or freehand), take a really sharp knife and cut the shapes out
6. Light it Up
Drop a tea light into the pumpkin and place the top of the pumpkin back on. Place in a dark room and watch your pumpkin light up!
The Legend of Jack O’Lantern
A stingy drunkard of an Irish blacksmith named Jack had the misfortune of running into the Devil in a pub on Halloween night. Having had too much to drink he agreed to sell his soul to the Devil, but before he went he asked the Devil to buy him one last drink. The devil immediately turned himself into a sixpence to pay the bartender but Jack pocketed the coin. The Devil was unable to turn himself back because of the silver cross in Jack’s purse. Jack refused to let the Devil go until he promised not to return for his soul for ten years.
Ten years later Jack met the Devil on a country road to claim his soul. Jack agreed to go on the condition that the Devil get him an apple from a nearby tree. The Devil agreed and got onto Jack’s shoulders to fetch the apple. In the meantime Jack carved a cross on the tree. This left the Devil trapped in the tree and Jack only agreed to let him go if he promised never to ask for his soul again.
Years later when Jack died he was denied access to heaven on the grounds of his drunken meanness. When he tried to gain access to Hell the Devil also denied him entry due to the promise he had made years before. However he did toss Jack a live coal to help him find his way through the darkness of limbo. Jack put the coal into a turnip he was eating.
Jack has wandered in the darkness ever since and the symbol of the lantern became known as the symbol of the damned soul.
© 2017 – VIDA Magazine – Rachel Zammit Cutajar