We carved a Jack-O-Lantern every year when our children were little, and after – when they had grown and gone and a crop of grandchildren was hanging around at Halloween. Initially, my wife and I did the initial designs, but eventually the youngsters took over this job. They drew the face on the pumpkin and we wielded the knife to render it. We had some very interesting visages on our porch to greet trick-or-treaters.
Pumpkins once carved, don’t last very long, and they would start to soften up before long. A hard frost would hasten this collapse, and they would slump into faces even more interesting and ominous than the original – nature would add its own unpredictable art. Ultimately what was left was tossed into the garden or compost.
After the youngsters of our own clan had grown up and moved on to establish Halloween traditions with their own offspring, we continued to put a Jack-O-Lantern on our porch for trick-or-treaters, until our neighborhood of older established houses stopped drawing crowds of them and we settled on putting a whole uncarved pumpkin on the porch. These would last a much longer time and we could leave them there until Thanksgiving, where they still seemed appropriate.
Some years later we bought a cabin in the NC foothills. Not a chance for a trick-or-treater up there, but a pumpkin on the porch still seemed like a good idea, until we found that some unknown scavengers – probably deer or raccoons – discovered them. Only occasionally would one last longer than a few nights before their raids.
One year, our neighbors up the hill proposed a game to get rid of any pumpkins that survived the wildlife. We would do a “pumpkin chuck”. We gathered below the deck behind their cabin – overlooking the long, steep meadow and woods below. We would give the pumpkins a vigorous roll and see how far down the hill they would go. We were amazed to see them bounce down the field and disappear into the woods – still carrying an impressive amount of steam. We realized that if they somehow negotiated the woods, they could possibly land on the roof of a cabin further down the hill! We never heard any complaints from that direction, though, so assumed we had gotten away with it. We only tried this game a couple of years, and gave up setting out pumpkins for critter food.
For this past Halloween, we bought a very nice, firm, not too big, not too small symmetrical pumpkin and put it on our porch. As it happened, we didn’t get a single trick-or-treater. In anticipation of this possibility, we had purchased candy that we happened to like.
So Halloween came and went, as did Thanksgiving. The pumpkin sat on the porch, resolute as ever, and as we began decorating for Christmas this past weekend, we began to feel a little self-conscious about this relic from other holidays. But wait, I thought. This is the holiday season! Couldn’t we get a little more mileage out of this round orange gourd? Look, after Thanksgiving we’ve still got Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Day – why somewhere on some South Pacific atoll, some obscure celebration we have never heard of is marking the solstice! Our artsy granddaughter came up with a brilliant idea. We made a quick trip to a local store for a few supplies and she went to work. Thus was Jack–O-Santa born.
Granddaughter Mary Kathryn (Mickey) poses with her creation – our very first Jack-O-Santa.