Don’t let a Halloween tradition get squashed
I do not understand our morbid fascination with pumpkins. Year after year we slaughter these gentle giants and hack them to pieces, with little regard for the ancient art of pumpkin carving.
Pumpkin carving is not just a mindless, stereotypical activity that our culture has dictated we must all do to get into the Halloween spirit. Too often during the insane holiday rush, we forget about the true meaning of pumpkin carving. Pumpkin carving aficionados will tell you it is all about pride, determination, passion and strength. If one intends to carve his pumpkin correctly, he must hold these ideals firmly in his heart and press forward, no matter how many obstacles his pumpkin may throw in his way. After 13 years of carving experience, I am still longing to discover the perfect pumpkin carving technique, but I continue to practice the art year after year.
The relationship between a pumpkin and its carver is one of the strongest bonds found on earth. A carver chooses his pumpkin carefully, knowing that the union must last forever (or at least until the shell gets mushy). Children are the best pumpkin choosers, as one may notice at Halloween carnivals and pumpkin patches. At a young age, a child looks for the smallest and cutest pumpkin, one he can carry around on his own. A child understands that the pumpkin is depending on him to protect and cherish it and to make sure it survives the trip home. As the child grows older, the size of the pumpkin also grows, until it reaches a point where the child struggles to lift it. Small and cute is exchanged for large and majestic. This daunting task of finding the perfect pumpkin, however, is essential for the next step, when the pumpkin places all its faith in the carver.
I have carved pumpkins with every tool short of a chain saw. Butcher knives, steak knives, butter knives, serrated knives, electric carving knives, pumpkin-carving-kit knives, skewers and even an electric drill have all been put to the task. Unfortunately, not one of these tools, nor any combination I have tried, is entirely satisfactory for carving purposes. I have, however, discovered the best tool for gutting a pumpkin: siblings.
When you are young, you do not mind sticking your hand into a pumpkin up to your armpit to pull out the slimy, stringy innards. It is fun getting the gunk under your nails, on your skin (especially after it dries and pulls your skin tight), and all over your clothes. The only problem occurs when you are subjected to that nose itch, which never fails to strike halfway through the gutting process. In my family, one person is always around with a paper towel during pumpkin carving for the sole purpose of itching the carver’s nose, if needed.
As you get older, the glamour of gutting becomes less and less appealing. It just isn’t fun to stain your nails orange with pumpkin mess, or have that pumpkin smell clinging to you no matter how many times you wash your hands. Therefore, it is worth slipping a few dollars to a younger sibling to get the inside of the pumpkin clean. In my case, my little sister has the opportunity to earn a little extra spending money every Halloween. (She has recently developed the annoying habit of humming the first two lines of “It’s All About the Benjamins” while she cleans my pumpkin. A true artist, such as myself, cannot be bothered with such trivialities.)
Once the carving commences, the pumpkin is at the mercy of its creator. There is always a misguided attempt at carving the top, a process that takes at least three tries to do well. I enjoy trying to carve elaborate designs. I did not say that I was able to carve these designs well; I merely stated that I try. Most of the time, I end up holding my pumpkin together with an odd menagerie of paper clips, bubble gum from the previous Halloween, and toothpicks. Once the pumpkin has every carved-out piece removed and all extra globs of pumpkin innards cleaned off of the shell, it is ready for the candle. The positioning of a candle is very important. It must be centered exactly, so that the pumpkin does not catch fire when lit. The actual lighting is one of the most formidable tasks a carver will encounter. The ability to stick a lighted match into a pumpkin and light the candle without scorching sensitive knuckle hair is a rare gift.
As one can see, with the art of pumpkin carving quickly being forgotten, it is time for someone to create a pumpkin for the masses: a pre-gutted, pre-cleaned pumpkin designed for our age of convenience. But, then again, I would probably end up missing the enjoyable frustration that comes with our carving rituals.
Meredith Blake, a 16-year-old Grass Valley resident, is a junior at Nevada Union High School. She writes a monthly column. Write her in care of Youth Page, The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945, or at
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