Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a man called Stingy Jack. He lived in Ireland. One night Stingy Jack invited the devil out for a drink. The devil, always up for a good time, agreed, but when it came time to pay for the drinks, Stingy Jack started acting, well, stingy, and refused to pay. He eventually convinced the devil to turn himself into a coin with which they could pay for the drinks, but when the devil did this Jack put the coin in his pocket next to a silver cross, which stopped the devil from being able to return to his usual form. Stingy Jack agreed to allow the devil out of coin form as long as the devil agreed to leave him alone for a full year, including not taking his soul to hell should he die. The devil, not wanting to be a coin forever, agreed, but the next year Stingy Jack pulled a similar prank and a similar deal was struck. Then, Stingy Jack died. God didn't want him in heaven and the devil, who had agreed to leave Jack alone, wouldn't take his soul to hell. So Stingy Jack roamed Ireland with nothing but a burning coal in a carved-out turnip lantern to light his way. And thus Jack of the Lantern, or the Jack O' Lantern, was born. People continued to carve turnips and potatos, and pumpkins after emigrating to America, into lanterns and put them on windowsills to keep evil roaming spirits away.
Today, pumpkin carving is an art (note the depiction of Edvard Munch's Scream above, and the dead Frida Kahlo below), and with websites like Better Homes and Gardens offering Fresh Ideas for Pumpkin Carving and tons of Free Stencils, there's no shortage of inspiration. Perhaps the best place to get pumpkin carving inspiration is from past contestst and festivals, like the Extreme Pumpkin Carving Contest which emphasizes humor and the use of power tools in their carvings; the Manchester, VT Annual Pumpkin Carving Festival, which is gaining popularity in New England every year; or This Old House's Pumpkin Carving Contest
clockwise from top left: www.extremepumpkins.com, www.thisoldhouse.com, www.vermontpumpkin.com, www.thisoldhouse.com
If you're feeling overwhelmed by all the possibilities, then go to Lamont Park in Northwest DC tomorrow, Sat. 10/28, from 9am-1pm for free pumpkin carving lessons and demonstrations. For more information on this event visit the Bloomingdale Neighborhood Blog.