This Halloween seemed particularly festive—perhaps it was due to the fact that it fell on a Friday or maybe it was the Indian summer weather we enjoyed, in New York City, in the days leading up to the big day. There has been something of a population explosion in my office, so I imagine my own enthusiasm for trick-or-treating was an eagerness to see the costumes my friends and colleagues would chose for their kids. But it just never gets old—the rituals of Halloween: picking pumpkins (or for city dwellers, buying them in the super market!); arranging autumn floral bouquets and table arrangements; making cards; buying candies; baking special treats…and waiting for the children. The neighborhood where I live, the Upper East Side, is filled with celebratory souls who spare no effort or expense in decorating their elegant town houses with great flair. All of this only heightens the anticipation.
And when you think you know everything about the holiday, PBS publishes “Eight fun facts about Halloween.” Among the historic tidbits offered by our public television friends was an interesting explanation about the popularity of pumpkins for the autumnal holiday:
“Before the 19th century, Irish carved turnips into lanterns during the Celtic festival of Samhain, believing that the light would keep the spirits away from their homes. When waves of Irish immigrants moved into American cities, the pumpkin became a natural substitute. Pumpkins had always been a symbol of American abundance, growing out of control like weeds. But by the 18th and 19th century, they weren’t a popular food, says Cindy Ott, author of Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon. Irish immigrants brought the pumpkins inside as decoration, giving them faces and spooky personas as part of a parlor game.
‘They’re creepy little guys,” Ott said, pointing to 19th century drawings of jack o’lanterns with arms and legs. “It’s like a little personality. It’s not just vegetable.’
The gourd lanterns breathed new life into small American farms, Ott says. By the 1980s and 1990s, harvesting pumpkins turned into a booming local business.
‘It’s that popularity of the jack o’lantern and [pumpkin] pie that helped rejuvenate the small farm,’ Ott said. ‘(Harvesting pumpkins) was a laborious thing to do in 1742 but now it’s a form of recreation.’”
All I know is that on Friday night, while I couldn’t see all of the fantastic costumes worn by the adorable babies, toddlers, and kids of my friends, in person, through the magic of Facebook—I could enjoy them, nonetheless!