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Unless you’ve been living in a dungeon, you’ll have seen a Jack o’lantern. It’s the universal symbol of Halloween, and always appear in Hollywood movies and TV shows set during the season. But why do we carve pumpkins at Halloween, where should we display them, and how do you carve them? Read on!

Carving up an Irish tradition

Back when the tradition of carving and decorating jack o’lanterns began in Ireland, pumpkins weren’t used at all. Instead, they would carve turnips and potatoes and put an ember from an open fire inside it – and boy, did they look creepy!

Using pumpkins is an American addition to the tradition, as they are plentiful and cheap there, and they are becoming more popular here in Australia too with major supermarkets stocking them from mid-September onwards.

Carving tips

Even five years ago, you’d be lucky to find a carving pumpkin in Australia at Halloween. Now you can walk into your local supermarket or fruit store, and chances are they can help you out. But finding them is one thing, carving is another.

There are some simple rules to follow when carving your lantern.

USE THE RIGHT TOOLS: If you decide to use your best, sharpest knife, you’re probably going to be able to make your own horror movie when you’re finished; pumpkins ‘bleed’ when they’re cut, making them quite slippery so stick to a proper carving kit – and keep your fingers.

START SIMPLE: Like most things, practice makes perfect when carving your Jack o’lantern. Start with a simple design and when you’re learning to get the hang of it, you then start to create more complex designs.

Take your time: Even in the warmer Australian climate, you pumpkin will keep once cut for at least a few days, so don’t leave carving until the last minute when you’ll be rushed and risk injury, or end up with a really dodgy looking Jack o’lantern.

KEEP AN EYE ON THEM: Once you’ve carved your masterpiece, put a lit tealight candle inside to light it up, but never leave your lit Jack o’lantern unsupervised indoors and take the lid off to prevent it catching on fire. A safer option are battery powered tealight candles that last for ages and even flicker to give your pumpkin a truly eerie appearance. You can leave these unsupervised without fear of burning your house down.

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