Remember your ‘roots’ this Halloween

Carved turnips at Dover Castle. Credit: English Heritage

Why not return to your ‘roots’ this Halloween and rediscover the humble turnip?

Carved turnips at Dover Castle. Credit: English Heritage
Carved turnips at Dover Castle. Credit: English Heritage

Long before the pumpkin became the Halloween decoration of choice, people across the British Isles carved scary faces into turnips and placed them near doorways to frighten away evils spirits. The practice originated from a folk tale about a man named Jack, who, after trying to trick the devil, was cursed to roam the earth with only a burning coal – inside a hollowed-out turnip – to light the way: the original Jack O’ Lantern.  

Turnip carving as a tradition began in Ireland. Credit: English Heritage
Turnip carving as a tradition began in Ireland. Credit: English Heritage

During the 19th century, immigrants to the US took this tradition with them and quickly discovered that pumpkins, a native American fruit, were far easier to carve. In recent times, carving pumpkins at Halloween has established itself as a tradition on this side of the Atlantic, but that’s not to save you can’t return to your roots.

Historian Dr Michael Carter said: “From carved pumpkins to trick or treating, many of the traditions associated with Halloween today come from early European folklore, rather than simply being American inventions.

“I don’t think turnips are going to replace pumpkins – they are more difficult to carve – but hopefully people will remember the turnip and all our other rich traditions.”

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