If It Were Not For Pumpkins (#89)

Pumpkin Festival
Pumpkin Festival, Laconia, New Hampshire

When Andy and I first met, we were always at dance events over Halloween weekends. Once we married and all our money went into our wedding, however, we stayed home. Sort of.

The night before Halloween, I pounced on Andy the minute he walked in the door from work. “C’mon, c’mon! Let’s go!”

“Huh? What? Where?”

“The pumpkin patch!”

“For…what?”

“For an orangutan, of course.”

Andy appeared to consider this seriously. “Won’t it eat the cats?”

“No, I’m gonna train it to scoop the litter box.”

“Seems reasonable,” Andy allowed me to tow him back down to the garage.

************

I quizzed Andy on our short drive. “What size pumpkin do you want to get?”

“I dunno. What do you usually get?”

“A big one. What kind do you usually get?”

Andy said, “I’ve never gotten a pumpkin.”

“WHAT?! Never?!”

“Stop looking at me like I said something ridiculous, like I never…ate peanut butter.”

“Not eating peanut butter is not weird. Kids are allergic to everything now,” I argued. “Not decorating a pumpkin on Halloween is worse than saying you never watched the Super Bowl. It’s like, un-American or something.”

“I didn’t say we didn’t decorate pumpkins for Halloween,” Andy argued huffily.

Pumpkin Decoration, Hawaiian Style
Pumpkin Decoration, Hawaiian Style

“How can you decorate pumpkins when you don’t buy them?!”

“We made them out of construction paper.”

“Oh, HONEY. That’s just…  Wow, I hurt for you.”

“What? Shipping pumpkins to Hawaii is expensive. There aren’t many and they cost a fortune. It’s kind of a waste. People don’t even eat them.”

“The Pilgrims did. Pumpkins, like, saved the Pilgrims.” I sang a snatch of the old Colonial song:

Pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon
If it were not for pumpkins, we should be undoon!

Andy yelled over my singing, “Then the really American thing should be eating them. In pie. At Thanksgiving. Not pointlessly carving them up.”

“WRONG! The pumpkin is what makes Halloween so American.”

*************

Before Halloween was Hallowed Evening, or All Hallow’s Eve, or there was even an All Saints Day to have a Hallowed Evening ahead of it, there was the Celtic holiday of Samhain. Samhain went with the harvest and corresponded to about November 1st.

On Samhain, everyone was on the move – the crops got stored, the cattle got moved to closer pastures, and the souls of those who had died that summer traveled to the underworld. The barrier between the living and the dead was at its most fluid on Samhain. Bonfires helped the dead find their way (and kept them away from the living). Fruits, vegetables, and animals were sacrificed.

The Catholic Church attempted to makeover the pagan Samhain by celebrating all the saints (All Souls/ All Saints Day) and equating the Celtic world of the dead with evil, demons, etc. The vegetable sacrifice morphed into carvings on turnips to scare away nasty creatures the night before All Saint’s Day. (A raw turnip is pretty scary, when you think about it.)

Americans, in their usual fashion, opted for bigger and better.  Instead of the  measly turnip, they used their native pumpkin (known then as the “pompion”). Americans discovered their gourd was not only bigger, it was much easier to carve. American stories (such as “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,”), movies, and then TV turned the pumpkin into the celebrated jack-o’-lantern. Our jack-o’-lantern invaded the rest of the world with our media. Our pumpkins now have minimal flesh and taste terrible, but they are a vegetable artisan’s dream. Hardly anyone remembers the poor turnip.

Hardly anyone remembers All Saint’s Day, either, so you know all the Druids down in the Celtic underworld routinely blow triumphant raspberries at the mournful Catholic saints up in Heaven. America produces 1.5 BILLION pounds of pumpkins every year, and 72% of all American households carve those pumpkins. 12045489_1257147714301695_6401959970576105678_oBut the jack-o’-lantern no longer tries to frighten anyone away. Instead, a house with jack-o’-lantern is a welcoming beacon on Halloween in America. The golden light says, “Hello, kiddies! This ain’t no crazy religious, anti-fun house! Come on up! Show off your costume and get your candy here!”

Is this not an AWESOME homemade costume?
Is this not an AWESOME homemade costume? I took this picture last Halloween.

Which is super important to the ten-year-old hauling around a blue trashcan, a plunger, and a paint roller turned into a homemade Dalek costume. No way does she want to climb thirty steps up to a house and get handed a religious tract instead of a Snickers. That’s just cruel.

So she and her friends look for the pumpkin. If someone took the time to scoop, carve, and light, there’s a good chance there’s some serious chocolate behind the grinning orange face on the front porch.

If the lights are on, but there’s no pumpkin, well, the house is a crapshoot. There might be old folks with arthritis who still give out full-sized candy. Or it might be a snack-sized bag of pretzels.

Or, God forbid, a freakin’ toothbrush.

Please, people, never be the dream-crushing toothbrush-giver.

****************

Andy quit being a Halloween Scrooge around the time I threatened to sing the Colonial Pumpkin Song in its entirety. We picked out two medium-sized gourds, grabbed some take-out, and got to work. Andy made a jolly jack-o’-lantern, while I made a traditional scary one, with fierce eyebrows and huge, bellowing mouth. Andy, despite being a first time carver, was far more adept with the knife than I was. His pumpkin was done long before mine, probably because eyebrows are tricky and my fine motor skills are sucky. Andy was kind enough to finish carving my jack o’ lantern’s face (after being unkind enough to snicker at the giant mouth and say, “Fitting.”)

The following night, we put candles in our jack o’ lanterns. I put Andy’s on the sidewalk leading to the semi-hidden entrance to our row of town houses. I put mine on our front steps. I got out two 5 pound bags of snack-sized chocolate bars from Costco. And then we waited for the horde of trick-or-treaters to arrive.

All three of them. Despite our welcoming pumpkins, not many kids ventured into our neighborhood of young couples and middle-aged singles.

But those three trick-or-treaters? Well, they were the happiest Captain America, Disney Princess, and Zombie Ninja you ever saw.

I poured at least a pound of candy into each of their bags.

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Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

41 thoughts on “If It Were Not For Pumpkins (#89)”

  1. We’ve given up the ghost of trick or treating. When we first moved into our neighborhood, we didn’t get any kids. Then we got a handful (fortunately we continued to buy candy). Then one year we got bombarded by vans carrying hordes. Next year back to none. As I have learned, our houses are too far apart and the kids waste too much time walking between houses so they don’t come here unless they live on the street. For the past 5 years, we go out for dinner while trick or treat is going on with our house dark. Saves me having to eat all that chocolate. Oh yes, one year my husband bought candy, put it in a box on the front porch with a sign that said “please take one.” We all know how that went. Never again.

    1. Well, you made some kid’s night with your box of candy. And if he was a jerk, you probably made him throw up. Win-win? Or was it merely a win for the raccoon?

      Yeah, kids today work the percentages. We’ve moved since that first Halloween, so I expect more kids!

  2. We had something better than candy ODs. We had a couple living around the block, where at least one (and possibly both) of the guys worked for a toy company. We NEVER missed that house.

      1. Meh. A 52nd “fun” size Hershey snack has nothing on something that goes beep. (Now if there weren’t 51 other candies, I might have felt differently.)

  3. I live in a neighborhood with sidewalks and lots of houses so kids drive in from other areas. Although the numbers have dwindled over the years I still get a lot of kids. i still buy the big bags of candy from Costco but have more leftovers to eat. My friend’s husband is a dentist…guess what they give out at their house? And guess what you can find tossed in the middle of the road right past their house.

  4. I am a Halloween scrooge. I eagerly await my sons’ stash of candies to hurriedly pick out my favorites. He’s 4 and I only have a few more years of this. One year I bought a Costco bag of candies and ended up eating half the bag. SHRUG.

    1. Oh, the Parental Tithe! Totally legit until they quit trick-or-treating. Or at least that’s what my dad told me as he ate all my Snickers.

      Yeah, I have my two bags ready and I am trying SO HARD not to open them. Cuz when they are open, it is all over.

  5. That was very generous of you and Andy to give them that much candy. I would too if I were in your shoes. So few of them, so more candy for them all 😀 Perhaps you were the only one in your town to give the chocolate away…maybe the kids saw you as very nice people.

    Halloween is certainly not as big here in Australia. My Chinese-Malaysian family don’t even think it’s a big deal either. Once we lived in Singapore in an apartment full of white expats and we had trick o’ treaters. My mum looked out the peep hole and didn’t do anything. Next thing we know they sprayed all this sticky party streamers all over our door.

  6. Ohhhh, your visitors really followed through on the threat — no treat, so they played their trick! I’ve never heard of kids actually taking trick-or- treating back to its extortionist roots, though it undoubtedly happens. Bad children. Wait. BAD PARENTS.

    Here, if no one answered, we just ran off to the next house. I mean, why waste your time with pranks when free candy was available?

    Better they eat the candy than me!

  7. We don’t really have Halloween in Spain, although now of course everybody knows it, because of the American movies! I guess some places organize costume parties, but I don’t think anyone goes around asking for candy…

    We do have the all saints day, though! It is supposed to be celebrated by going to the countryside and eating chestnuts. Oh, and going to the cemetery, I guess.

      1. Not really, we didn’t have any relatives in our local cemetery and to be honest I have never been there, haha. But normal people are supposed to go.

  8. My mom bought a bag with small bags of Haribo gummy bears in case some children came over on Halloween. Unfortunately I found the bag when I visited her last week and emptied it. Sorry mom. 🙁
    And I have never had a pumpkin for Halloween, but now I want one. Can anyone come here and carve a Pikachu pumpkin for me please?

  9. My poor kids were trick-or-treating age in the Philippines where no one went trick-or-treating, at least not in those days. Maybe they do now. Filipinos are big celebrators of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. They bring card tables and blankets to the graves of their great-grandparents and stay there all night eating, drinking beer, playing music and cards, and basically partying.

    My kids dressed up as pioneers, cowgirls, and hula dancers for United Nations’ Day, which is also in October. Their schools always had nice UN Day parties and parades. They did carve pumpkins when we moved back. You don’t have to be a child to have fun carving pumpkins.

    1. The Philippines sounds a lot like Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Los Angeles. Not surprising, really! Are you going to do a post on that, Nicki? Or did you do it already and I missed it?

      I did not know about UN Day. Thanks for the info. I’m going to see if Andy had anything like that in Hawaii.

  10. Yeahhhh, gotta back Andy on this one. Not a whole lotta pumpkins in Hawaii. However, I’m sure that has changed with Costco and Wal-Mart now on the islands. I wish you had pictures of your pumpkins though! Sounds like it was fun 🙂

    1. I was waiting for you to chime in, Lani, and back Andy on the orange construction paper. (Or maybe I was hoping you would call bullshit on him!)

      So we had a computer malfunction at one point — I have no idea how or why, and neither does Andy, but our entire file of files of photos was deleted. Gone forever. We’re talking YEARS of photos. Cat photos — gone. Pumpkin photos, Christmas photos, the whole bit. We were never able to recover it. So now I beg, borrow, and steal photos from family and friends.

      Photos that we printed out for Andy’s parents or my grandmother I was able to retrieve from Costco files, but there weren’t that many.

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