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Home School Life Journal ........... painting by Katie Bergenholtz
"Let us strive to make each moment beautiful."
Saint Francis DeSales

Halloween Week History: The History of Halloween and Turnip Jack O' Lanterns

“Oh!—fruit loved of boyhood!—the old days recalling,
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.[1][2] 
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.[3] Samhain was a time when fairies and spirits were said to be active.[4] 
The purpose of these lanterns may have been threefold. They may have been used to light one's way while outside on Samhain night; to represent the spirits and otherworldly beings; and/or to protect oneself and one's home from them.[5] 
Bettina Arnold writes that they were sometimes set on windowsills to keep them out of one's home.[6] However, others suggest that they originated with All Saints' Day (1 November)/All Souls' Day (2 November) and that they represented Christian souls in purgatory.[7] 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.[1] The term jack-o'-lantern is in origin a term for an ignis fatuus or will-o'-the-wisp in English folklore, used especially in East Anglia, its earliest known use dating to the 1660s. The application of the term to carved pumpkins in American English is first attested in 1834,[8] and the carved pumpkin lantern association with Halloween is recorded in 1866.[9]- Wikipedia
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


  1. Nice Work! What a great way to incorporate a history lesson into such a fun holiday. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I was thinking owl before I read the word - so I'd say he did a great job :)

  3. I'd forgotten until I read your post that turnips were used for Halloween! I always read that and wonder how in the world did they carve such small little things!

    Fun post.


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