311. Strange American Pumpkin Rituals

I’ve spent a few years in Indiana, one of the United States of America. Indiana is extremely different from my homeland of Ecuador. The season of autumn brings all sorts of strange cultural customs. In fact, as we approach the holiday known as “Halloween,” I’ve seen disconcerting rituals take place in my very neighborhood.

Today TMTF delves into anthropology and investigates strange American pumpkin rituals. For science.

I’m baffled by the bizarre, violent, and highly dubious custom of carving pumpkins into facsimiles of severed heads. These gruesome gourds are known as “jackal lanterns,” or some such.

Nothing brightens up a porch like grotesque facsimiles of severed heads!

Nothing brightens up a home like grotesque facsimiles of severed heads!

I recently witnessed the creation of jackal lanterns firsthand. First, the pumpkins were eviscerated and their innards piled in slimy heaps. Seeds were extracted from these heaps, seasoned, and cooked in an oven. I gathered that roasted pumpkin seeds are a seasonal delicacy, and tried a small handful—for science. The seeds tasted like buttered wood chips and were more or less completely indigestible. Americans must lack taste buds and have ironclad stomachs—but that’s research for another time.

After they were emptied of seeds and pulp, the hapless pumpkins had faces carved in them. These were grotesque. Further researches on my part yielded some interesting information: although jackal lanterns are generally patterned after severed heads, they can feature words, portraits, logos, cartoon ponies, interstellar weapons of mass destruction, and other forms of visual art.

Once completed, jackal lanterns are usually placed upon porches or in front yards. Lights or candles are placed inside them, shining through apertures and places where the sides of the pumpkins have been pared to a translucent thinness. This explains the lantern part of jackal lantern, but my researches have yet to explain the jackal part. Is the purpose of displaying these lanterns to frighten away jackals?

My other hypothesis is that jackal lanterns are deployed outside homes as protective charms to ward off gnomes, trolls, or evil spirits.

Halloween brings many more peculiar rituals, such as the custom of donning disguises, accosting strangers on their doorsteps, and demanding sweets. This ritual is apparently call “triquertreting.” (I haven’t actually seen the word written, so I’ve transcribed it phonetically here.) I can only presume the word is derived from the French triquer (cudgel) and the German treten (trample). Thus triquertreting can be loosely translated to cudgeling and trampling, which confirms my worst fears about Halloween and its customs.

All this makes me long for Ecuador’s peaceful and sensible customs for the Día de los Difuntos (Day of the Dead) on November 2, a couple of days after Halloween. Ecuadorians eat guaguas de pan, children made of bread; slurp colada morada, a soupy hot drink made with spiced fruit; and dine atop the graves of dead ancestors. What’s weird about that?

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