When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!”
-John Greenleaf Whittier, "The Pumpkin" (1850)
Pumpkin carving is thought to come from the British Isles, where turnips, mangelwurzel or beets were used.
Turnip lanterns, sometimes with faces carved into them, were made on the Gaelic festival of Samhain (31 October–1 November) in the 19th century in parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. Samhain was a time when fairies and spirits were said to be active.
The purpose of these lanterns may have been to light one's way while outside on Samhain night or to protect oneself and one's home from the spirits and otherworldly beings,
although I can't imagine too much light being produced by a turnip with a candle.
|Comparison of a small pumpkin (back) and a carved turnip (foreground).|
Immigrants from Britain and Ireland brought the tradition to North America. There, the pumpkin replaced the turnip as pumpkins were more readily available, bigger, and easier to carve, which Sam can attest to this being a fact.
In keeping with this tradition, Sam decided to carve a turnip this year instead of a pumpkin.
Some tips in case you ever decide to try it.
Begin with the largest turnip you can find.
Start by slicing a little off the bottom to make it sit evenly, and slice a bit off the top to make a surface to begin digging out.
Use a melon baller or a heavy ice cream scoop to dig out the center of the turnip.
You don't have much surface to make a face with, so keep that in mind when you decide on the design you will make.
|Sam's Owl lantern made from a turnip, 2012|