When I have the time, I like to stay with the old traditional idea of carving turnips and not pumpkins for Halloween. I had time this year.
Jack-O-Lanterns come from a traditional Irish legend using root vegetables instead of soft pumpkins.
Old Jack was a crab and generally nasty overall. If he could steal, he would steal instead of buy. If he could be lazy, he would be lazy instead of work. He would spirit away the money from the church collection plate and blame the boys sitting’ on either side of him. A nasty old man indeed, his heart as hard as the raw turnip, and his soul the color of burnt wood...
To carve turnips, we first needed to gather some turnips. It is hard to find large turnips in my local stores, so we use the rather simple variety you can find at the grocer.
Then, the tops of the turnips are lopped off to make a cap. Be forewarned, turnips are harder than potatoes, not soft like pumpkins. Generally, this is not a job for children, but with careful supervision, daughter #4 (aged 10) joined me.
Old Jack, when he grew very old, was visited by devil, to take him away to his death. After some smooth talking, Jack tricked the devil into climbing an apple tree to get Jack an apple, “for my one last pleasure on earth.” When the devil climbed the tree, Jack made crosses from the twigs and grasses and placed them at the bottom of the tree. Now trapped in the tree, the devil agreed to Jack’s conditions to be set free: The devil would never again try to take Jack away meaning that Jack would live forever.
After some time, Jack grew tired of living and made his way to the gates of heaven. Since he was so wicked and evil, God would not allow him in an sent him on to hell. The devil, remembering Jack’s trickery, told Jack that they had a bargain and that Jack would not even be allowed into hell itself. Jack pleaded, knowing that he would now be condemned to walk the earth forever…”
I sliced up the insides of the turnips with a sharp knife. Then, daughter and I scooped out the insides. Hard work that was. What pulp that didn’t hit the floor or flung out to hit the walls was saved in a big pot, to be boiled and eaten later. Yummy, if you cook them long enough and season them with garlic, lemon, salt and pepper.
Once the pulp is scooped out and we have developed new muscles, it’s time for the carving. There is much less space to work with on a turnip- so if you’re used to the large canvas to create on, this is the time to learn subtle interpretations to express your inner artist. Daughter created the middle carved turnip in the picture at the top of the post, drawing it first out on paper then taking the knife to the turnip. She said she wanted a turnip that had “eyelashes.”
With the face carved, we smoothed out the bottom of the inside of the turnip and added candles.
Jack asked the devil what he was going to do wandering the earth forever. He pleaded that his eyesight would fail and he would not even be able to see where he was walking. Hearing that plea, the devil picked up a burning ember and tossed it to Jack, telling him to use that to light his path. Jack returned to earth and stuck that ember into a stolen turnip he carved himself. And to this day, we carry these lit turnips around to remind us of the evil ways of the devil and Jack.
When night fell and the Treat Trickers descended on the neighborhodd, we lit the display of real jack-o-lanterns for all to see.
The official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.