How to Carve a Pumpkin
For me at least, it seems every holiday needs to have some sort of decoration around to help celebrate. With all the festivities happening this October, particularly Halloween, decorating is an absolute must. Some of my favorite decorations during this time are carved pumpkins. Carved pumpkins, or jack-o-lanterns, allow creativity, the ability to get down and dirty (kids especially love this aspect), and provide a traditional decoration which has been used for hundreds of years.
Creativity is a big must when decorating your house for Halloween, and carving pumpkins provides the perfect touch to make my house look different from my neighbors (after all, no one wants to make their house look like their neighbors). While most houses traditionally have a jack-o-lantern out front it is unlikely you will find two that are the same. This means you can really make the trick or treaters “oooh” and “ahhh” at the sight of your amazing design.
For those who have carved a pumpkin, we all know how messy the pumpkins can get. I know I personally love to get my elbows deep in gross slimy pumpkin guts. After working at the Before and After School Program for numerous years, I have found that kids especially love to remove the guts from their pumpkins. Even adults tend to love the chance to step out of the norm and get their hands dirty.
Halloween originates from an Ancient Celtic holiday known as Samhain. When translated, Samhain means “summers end,” which celebrated the Celtic New Year. Jack-o-lanterns were carved and placed out on porches to welcome deceased loved ones and to keep away bad-natured spirits. Carving pumpkins in the United States started becoming a tradition in the early 1800’s, but is in fact much older in European countries like Ireland.
Carving a pumpkin is a great activity for families or even someone just looking to be creative. The steps to carving a pumpkin may vary from person to person but the principles still remain the same.
Picking out the right pumpkin takes patience and time. Pumpkins can typically be found at any grocery store that sells fresh produce, or you can go to a local pumpkin farm and spend time with your family to pick the perfect pumpkin. Look for a ripe pumpkin that has as few blemishes as possible. Perfectly round pumpkins make a great traditional jack-o-lantern but sometimes the flat or leaning pumpkins can really make a neat and creative jack-o-lantern. For this tutorial I will be using a homegrown pumpkin that is leaning on its back.
Tools are a very important part of the process for creating your jack-o-lantern. Your tool box can be as simple as a small paring knife or as complex as a store bought kit designed specifically for cutting into pumpkins. For this particular pumpkin we will be using a purchased kit which can be found at any store that sells Halloween decorations and supplies. No matter what tools you choose to use, just remember to be careful when using knives and other sharp objects. Take your time! Finishing quickly is not worth losing a finger!
Making the Initial Cut
Locate the stem on the pumpkin. Place your knife/saw about 3-4 inches away from the stem. Slowly start to cut into your pumpkin around the stem in a circular direction. You may choose to make the cut in the shape of a circle or you may choose to make the cut in a different shape. For my pumpkin I am choosing more of a zig-zag shape. Which ever shape you choose, just make sure you are making the cut large enough so you can fit your hand into the pumpkin when the top is removed. (If you are having kids help you with the project it may be a good idea to make this cut yourself.)
Removing the Guts
After you finish cutting the top around the stem, it is time to remove it. As I found out with my pumpkin, this may be fairly tough to remove and could require some time trying to pry the lid off of the pumpkin. When the lid has been removed you can now see the inside guts of the pumpkin. I have seen many different ways used to remove the guts but I have found the best (and most fun) method to use it to just reach into the pumpkin and pull out a handful of guts (be sure to place some newspaper under your pumpkin since this part can really make a mess). After you have removed the bulk of the seeds and slime, take a large spoon (or the spoon supplied in your kit) and start scraping the remaining insides out from your pumpkin. I have found from experience, bugs tend to move in faster if you leave any guts in the pumpkin.
After your scraping process, now is the time where you get to be creative and design the face of your pumpkin. When looking for a design, look for one that will be easy to trace and cut out with the tools that you are using. If you are using a larger knife, then you may want to stay away from smaller facial features requiring small curves and edges. For our pumpkin, we choose to use the YMCA logo as our face. After you have found your design, cut out the pieces and trace them onto your pumpkin using a permanent marker. I found that my regular printer with normal paper worked great to print out my design. After you have transferred the design to the pumpkin, you can begin carving.
Cutting Out Your Design
Using your knife or small saw (the one provided with your kit) carefully start to cut the tracings out of the pumpkin. Some pieces may take some time to cut out depending on how much detail there is. After you have successfully removed all of the pieces of your design, wipe down your pumpkin using a paper towel to remove any left over juices from the carving. (If you are having kids help you with the project it may be a good idea to make these cuts yourself)
Including Other Items in Your Design
Feel free to incorporate other household items or even clothing into your jack-o-lantern. I have seen many amazing jack-o-lanterns using hats, makeup and paint, t-shirts, chairs, and many other items.
Whether you choose to go all out and really decorate your house for the holidays or whether you choose to just have a single jack-o-lantern or two sitting on your front porch just remember to have fun and get as creative as you can!