Halloween Traditions In Appalachia

pumpkin carving

You can hardly think of Halloween without thinking of Pumpkins too. I was recently surprised to discover the tradition of carving Pumpkins for Halloween did not originate in the US, but in Ireland.

The famous Jack-O-Lantern started out as a lowly turnip or beet. In the old days folks in Ireland predominately used turnips-and sometimes beets-to make lanterns. At some point, they began using the lanterns as part of their Halloween Celebrations.

Once Irish immigrants got to the US they quickly realized the Pumpkin made a far better lantern than the turnip-thus today’s Jack-O-Lantern was born.

Many old world Halloween customs made their way to Appalachia-and although they’ve changed slightly over the years they’re still here. Ever hear this one: If a young lady peels an apple without breaking the peel; then throws it over her back; it will land in the shape of the initial of the person she will marry? This old wives tale originated in the British Isles-where it was supposed to be performed on Halloween. The traditions of trick or treating and dressing up in costumes also came from the British Isles.

The Scots-Irish who first settled Appalachia brought their heritage with them-and it seems it included most of the Halloween traditions Appalachians still enjoy today.



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  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 14, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    I’m trying to get a mental image of a beet or turnip jack-o-lantern….just doesn’t seem like it would fit!

  • Reply
    October 9, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    How funny to use a turnip or beet as a lantern. I’ll bet that was a sight.
    This year Boo will be carving one of those carvable, keepable pumpkins. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

  • Reply
    October 9, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    those pumpkins are neat! I just wrote a little article about pumpkins, so I knew about the turnips and the Scotch Irish. It’s hard to imagine using turnips for jack o lanterns. My mother’s ancestors were Scotch Irish.

  • Reply
    Granny Sue
    October 9, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    Fun stuff. I love the old folklore. There is a lot of German folklore in the mountains too, at least in West Virginia. A lot of the ghost stories here have roots in the Celtic cultures.

  • Reply
    October 9, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    Spider for a nose! so cute pumpkins!.. just loved reading the history on this! ..

  • Reply
    October 9, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    For whatever reason, I just love Halloween…and Fall. I enjoyed the reading about Irish influence on Appalachia. That influence is in everything really.

  • Reply
    petra michelle
    October 9, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Just love the lore, Tipper! How about, at midnight on Halloween, look into a mirror, and you’ll see your future husband.
    While I lived in Edinburgh, amazing how many tales were exchanged and collected at the pubs! I think we’ve lost so much imagination to being pragmatic!
    Love the carvings, Tipper! Wonderful imagination! 😉 Have a wonderful weekend! :))

  • Reply
    Pat Workman
    October 8, 2009 at 11:53 pm

    I approach every Oct wondering what new designs I can up with for carving pumpkins–or punkos– as my grandson says. You and the girls have some good ones going there. I especially like the white one, that’s Cool! I didn’t realize the tradition came from Ireland–like so many other good things. I like the turnip alternative, sounds like fun, I might try that. I bet my grands will enjoy playing around with it too.

  • Reply
    October 8, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    I didn’t know that the Scotch-Irish settled Appalachia. My dad is from Scotch-Irish decent and where I get most of my knowledge for your vocabulary tests. Hmmmmm.

  • Reply
    October 8, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    Just loved reading the history on this! We used to carve a pumpkin every year. Now my children are grown, so I usually carve one by myself. Enjoyed reading! blessings,Kathleen

  • Reply
    Nancy M.
    October 8, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    Cute pumpkins! Interesting history!

  • Reply
    Coach Daley
    October 8, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    Hey Tipper,
    When Rox was little we took her up to the N. GA mountains to a pumpkin patch so she could pick out her first one. She really didn’t know what was going on of course as she was barely two I think. But she was fascinated by all the big orange balls laying around.
    She found one that was about as big as she was but shaped in a way she could climb on and over, and fall off the other side with laughter. Of course this was the one I bought her.
    When we carved it I made the mouth so big that we had to hold it up with tooth picks or matches. But it lasted till Halloween and she was happy to go out and talk to it every day till that night.
    I can’t be sure but sometimes the look on her face as she talked to the Jack-O-Lantern seemed like it must have been answering her.
    Have a happy Halloween this year.
    Coach Daley

  • Reply
    October 8, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    Every year my wife and I and our son Tyler have been going to a Fall Festival to go on a hay ride to the pumpkin patch to pick our own pumpkins, it is always a lot of fun.

  • Reply
    October 8, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    Love that spider for a nose! Cute punkin’s! ;D

  • Reply
    October 8, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    I love fall, halloween, pumpkins and oh, just all of it. I had to laugh because in my wee tiny mind the first thing I was thinking as I was reading you post was how much those beets must have stained their hands while carving for lanterns. Can you imagine?

  • Reply
    Fishing Guy
    October 8, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Tipper: I think the pumpkin is halloween looking even w/o the carving.

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