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Lakewood Times

    The History of the Pumpkin


    Every year around Halloween people break out the decorations, candy, and, of course, pumpkins. But the history of pumpkins is a little more concrete than the orange squash that tends to collapse on itself a day or two after the holiday is over.

    The oldest pumpkin seeds were found to have originated over 7500 years ago in Mexico. Back then, they were nothing more than a small, bitter squash that was good to eat in winter because of its long expiration date. Later on, Native Americans in the later-to-become U.S. area used to pound the outer flesh of the vegetable into strips. They would weave these strips into mats and use them to trade for other goods.

    It has been rumored that Christopher Columbus brought pumpkin seeds back from the Americas to Europe, where they were used to feed livestock.

    Pumpkin pie is one of the oldest American treats, especially popular from late October through  Christmas. Natives used to scoop out the insides of the pumpkin and fill the hollowed-out shell with spices, milk and honey. They would then cook the insides over hot coals, and slowly this began to evolve to the modern-day pie.

    The origin of Jack’O’Lanterns, which first began in Ireland, ¬†is an interesting one as well. There was allegedly a man, called Stingy Jack, who was having a drink with the Devil. He did not want to pay for a drink and convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin. Once he did, he put the coin into his pocket with a cross so that the Devil could not turn back. He only set him free once the Devil promised not to bother him for a year, and not to take his soul once he died. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil, fooling him into climbing a tree and then drawing a cross on the trunk so that he could not get down. He made the Devil promise not to bother him for ten years this time. But when Jack finally died, God did not want to let such a horrible person into Heaven. But since the Devil couldn’t take him either, he was sent off into the darkness with only a coal. He put the coal into a pumpkin and has been wandering the darkness ever since. He was called “Jack of the Lantern” at first, and this morphed into the modern name.

    People began to carve ghoulish faces into pumpkins and other squash to ward off Jack and other bad spirits. The Irish and other Europeans brought this tradition with them to America, and it has continued ever since.

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