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Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns: A How-To Guide

Aug 26, 2008
If there is one image that Halloween conjures up for most of us it is the carved out orange jack-o-lantern pumpkin, with its ghoulish face lit up by a flickering candle inside.

Although jack-o-lanterns are carved from pumpkins in the United States, the tradition began differently. Halloween celebrations in Scotland and Ireland originally involved the use of similar, yet smaller jack-o-lanterns that were made out of turnips. Pumpkins, though, whose orange color has come to be directly related with Halloween, are a lot easier to work with while carving out a face.

When choosing a pumpkin to use as a jack-o-lantern, make sure that it is not overly ripe. If a pumpkin has strong smell or sounds hollow when you tap on the outside of it, it is too ripe to be used. Don't forget to seriously consider the color, shape, and overall condition of the pumpkin when making your selection. You want to pick the very best pumpkin you can for your jack-o-lantern. And, after picking one out, don't hold onto it by its stem, since it could snap apart and leave you with a squashed pumpkin instead of a jack-o-lantern.

The first steps in turning a plain old pumpkin into a scary Halloween jack-o-lantern are cleaning it, drying it, and cutting off the top part where the stem is located. Then, get all of the soft flesh and seeds out of the pumpkin. You will want to be left with just the thick surface of the pumpkin flesh. Since you need to be able to place a short candle inside the pumpkin, it is also important that you make sure that you leave the bottom of it flat, stable, and reasonably smooth.

Removing all the pumpkin innards is done most easily with a big spoon. After you do that, you can move onto the face carving process.

The best plan is to make a design on paper for your jack-o-lantern before you go ahead and start slashing up the pumpkin. This will ensure that you are really satisfied with the face you put on your jack-o-lantern. You can make the design yourself, buy stencils, or print one that you find online.

Place your paper over the pumpkin and hold it where you want the face to be with some sticky tape. Now work your way around the design outline with a skewer, or something else that is sharply pointed, and mark a line of close dots through the paper and into your pumpkin.

When you remove the paper stencil you will have a clearly marked outline of where you have to carve the face. This method is much more precise than just starting to carve without a plan.
About the Author
Now's the time to start planning your Halloween costumes for this year. Don't wait until it's too late and the good ones are all sold out. Get plenty of creative costume ideas on the Get In Costume website, where you can also get a free copy of my report "The Family Guide To Halloween Safety.".
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