With Halloween less than a week away, it’s time to get serious about decorations—and pumpkins are at the top of the list. Carving pumpkins is a familiar tradition to many students, and goes back as far as the late 19th century, when Irish immigrants escaping the potato famine brought Jack O’Lanterns over to North America.
The story goes that hundreds of years ago, a man named ‘Stingy Jack’ fooled the Devil, and for that he was refused entry to both heaven and hell; instead, his spirit was doomed to roam the earth for all eternity. In order to see, Stingy Jack carved a turnip and put a piece of coal inside. Many years later, people all over the world have carried on this old tale, but with pumpkins in place of turnips.
Though university students might have abandoned their pumpkin carving adventures years ago, it’s a Halloween activity worth revisiting. While this time of year is generally packed with costume parties and apartment crawls, it can be fun to indulge in your 8-year old self and reminisce about simpler times. With a little apple cider and some friends, this activity can make for a laid-back-yet-fun celebration of All Hallows Eve.
Carving a pumpkin isn’t rocket science, but it’s good to have a plan. Here are six simple steps to get the carving started.
Step 1: Pick your pumpkin
Whether you find yourself on a farm picking your own pumpkin or you stop by the grocery store on the corner of your street, the most important qualities to look out for when choosing your pumpkin are its size and colour. Aim for a large and light pumpkin—it’ll be easier to design with more surface area, and easier to carve thanks to how hollow it is. In terms of colour, the lighter the pumpkin is, the softer its flesh, meaning carving won’t turn into a strenuous task.
Step 2: Get ready to get creative
By now, you have your pumpkin and you’re sitting at home with it—it’s time to prepare your work space. To limit the mess you are about to make, put some newspaper down wherever you plan to channel your creativity. Gather your tools of choice. It’s easiest to carve with a serrated knife, since it can cut through the skin of a pumpkin quickly and efficiently.
Step 3: Clean out the insides
Next, cut a circle around the stem of the pumpkin. Make it wide enough so that your hand, as well as a spoon, can reach in and scrape out the insides. Once the top is off, start scraping! As you pull out the gooey insides, keep in mind that you can either compost them or save the seeds to roast. Either way, it’s resourceful and waste free.
Step 5: Carve away
After you’ve cleaned out the pumpkin’s insides, it’s time to design. This can be the hardest part, but there are steps you can take to make it easier. As a rule of thumb, tracing and cutting straight lines makes for an easy cut. If you’re looking to be a bit more creative, though, you can print out free stencils online and trace a design. To do this, you’ll need paper and thumb tacks. Use the thumb tacks to pin down the corners of the design, and then poke small holes with them in the pumpkin to trace where you will be cutting. After you are done carving, rub some Vaseline or diluted lemon juice on the exposed parts of the pumpkin to stop the areas from turning brown.
Keep in mind that cutting through a pumpkin is not your only option—from glitter to spray paint, there are many ways to turn make a gourd glamourous. You can use stencils to paint designs onto your pumpkin, or glue to add embellishments like glitter, flowers, and sequins.
Step 6: Get lit
Once your pumpkin is carved and clean, pick a spot to display its spookiness, and light it up. Though it’s standard to light pumpkins using candles, battery-powered string lights can serve as a safer alternative. Wrap the lights around a mason jar or similar vessel, and set it in the centre of the pumpkin.