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A turnip for the books

Eurest | Local presence |  28 October 2015

a turnip for the books

Have you ever done something because it’s ‘traditional’, without really understanding why? Chances are, whether it’s dodging round a ladder or muttering morning to a magpie, there’s a reason for it that goes back beyond superstition and blind repetition.

Take the traditional Halloween jack o’lantern — why do we carve scary faces into hollowed-out pumpkins?

Well it all starts back in the 17th century with the Irish folklore legend of Stingy Jack (Irish Central, 2014). Jack was a man who played games with the devil and, as a punishment for falling out of favour with both heaven and hell, he was sent to roam the world carrying a lantern made from a turnip to light his way.

Over time, ‘Jack of the Lantern’ became simply ‘Jack o’ lantern’, a homemade light Catholic children carried door-to-door on All Saints Day. Jack o’lanterns became the lights of choice for people dressed in costume on Samhain, the traditional Gaelic version of Halloween.

The ‘modern day’ pumpkin became the go-to vegetable only when the Halloween Jack o’lantern tradition crossed the pond to America, where it was much more readily available than the turnip.

These days carving a pumpkin is less about lighting a path — keeping a candle alight in a draughty gourd is tricky — and more about symbolising a willingness to take part in the fun of Halloween, signalling to troops of excited children that you’re ready to respond to their calls of “trick or treat” with handfuls of sweet goodies.

Here at Eurest, we know the importance of tradition, and will always take note of the tastes and preferences of the people local to each of our sites. We’re always open to suggestions from your people, including those based on local preference. We think tradition — whether you know its origin, or not — should be celebrated, and we’ll always go out of our way to incorporate it into what we do.

Hertz, K (2014) ‘Original Irish Jack-o-Lanterns were truly terrifying and made of turnips’, Irish Central, 8 October 2014 [online]. (Accessed 20 October 2014).

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