Charlie Brown: Who are you writing to, Linus?
Linus: This is the time of the year to write to the Great Pumpkin. On Halloween night, the Great Pumpkin rises out of his pumpkin patch and flies through the air with his bag of toys for all the children.
Charlie Brown: You must be crazy. When are you going to stop believing in something that isn’t true?
Linus: When you stop believing in that fellow with the white beard and the red suit who goes “HO! HO! HO!”.
Charlie Brown: We are obviously separated by denominational differences.
Linus (writing): “You must get discouraged because more people believe in Santa Claus than you. Well, let’s face it. Santa Claus has had more publicity. But being number two, perhaps you try harder.”
~ ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’
Linus’s misguided, if not slightly adorable, belief in the Great Pumpkin as the harbinger of Halloween, may find sympathizers among the people who compete to carve the best looking pumpkin one hour outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Each October, the Chadds Ford Historical Society and Concordville-Chadds Ford Rotary co-sponsors the Great Pumpkin Carve, which attracts hundreds of visitors to witness the artistic carving skills on giant pumpkins. A local farm grows and supplies the giant pumpkins, either ‘Prize-Winner’ or ‘Atlantic Giant’, which are sculptured endless ways. The pumpkins are shown for three consecutive days before they are carted away to oblivion. They range from the recognizable renditions of the traditional ‘jack-o-lantern’ to intricately-incised designs or insignias, i.e. the hoary pig transporting three jack-o-lanterns on its bristly back or a scythe-carrying skeleton on a macabre mission. Despite the crowds on the first evening, the festive fashion with which competition participants and visitors celebrate this Halloween tradition is a worthwhile experience for the first comer.
The pumpkin carving begins between 4:30 and 5 pm when competing individuals assess their pumpkins (they are each assigned one pumpkin randomly, and their ideas may or may not need to be modified). There is some tension as the contestants have until 8 pm to carve their designs before the competition is closed for judging. In the low evening light, the pumpkins glow large and full, and combined with the autumn foliage, it’s certainly a seasonal affair.
Those who stuck with simple designs usually finish earlier than those who take on more ambitious, elaborate ones that require scraping, lacerating, and even shaving where translucent layers are required for emphasis. Some people come armed with specific candles or lights to illuminate best their pumpkins. As the nightfall comes, all eyes remain transfixed on wringing out every detail to distinguish their pumpkins from each other on the judging arena.
It takes a steady hand and eye to shave carefully and slowly the hard skin to create ‘engravings’ like the above scene of the Native American Indians rowing a canoe or the one below of a trio of jack-o-lanterns hitchhiking on the back of a pig or boar.
Notice the array of tools the contestants bring with them – having merely a knife and a large spoon is inadequate! A set of surgical tools are certainly required to etch out the wood flanks, the roof shingles, and the lit window panes of this house on the pumpkin below.
Visit the Chadd Fords Historical Society’s webpage for more details on the Great Pumpkin Carve.