There are some things they don’t teach you in school. One of them is the difference between a pumpkin and a Jack O’ Lantern. I was always getting that wrong on the picture phonics pages in first grade because I never knew that a Jack O’ Lantern was a pumpkin carved with openings to let a candle light shine through, thus, a lantern!
Make Your Pumpkin Jack O’ Lantern Last Longer
After carving, soak the pumpkin in a weak solution of bleach and water for about five minutes to kill any bacteria or fungus that may increase decay.
Pat dry after soaking and lightly coat inside and out of the pumpkin with a layer of petroleum jelly, sealing all cut edges with a slightly thicker coat to seal out air and discourage bugs or small predators.
The annual ritual of creating the Jack O’ Lantern that sits by our front door to welcome our Trick-or-Treaters has no real value other than good, old fashioned fun! Carving a pumpkin is as much a family tradition in our home as decorating the Christmas Tree. It just wouldn’t be Halloween without our custom designed Jack O’ Lantern.
And, after the carving is done, we light the candle, turn out all the lights and enjoy the silliness of the face smiling back at us. It’s as much fun as running outside in your pajamas to see what your house looks like after spending all day hanging Christmas lights.
Things You’ll Need to Carve a Pumpkin
- The perfect pumpkin
- Sharp, pointed knife
- Short handled spoon
- Scrap paper, pencil
- Battery operated candle
- Petroleum jelly
After you’ve made your trip to the farm and found the perfect pumpkin, lay out several layers of newspaper and put it on a firm surface at a good height. The kitchen table is a good spot as you can stand while scraping the insides and sit comfortably while designing and carving the face. It’s also easy for children to sit around the table and help with the designing and scraping.
Use some scrap paper to draw different kinds of faces until you find something you like. You can make your lantern happy, goofy, scary or angry – you’re the artist here – you decide!
Where to Start Carving a Pumpkin
The first cut is the hardest! That’s why you need a very sharp, pointed knife. What you want to do first is cut into the top of the pumpkin at a 45 degree angle and follow around the top to create the lid of the lantern.
If you cut straight down, when you put the lid back on, it will just fall into the center of the pumpkin, so that angled cut is very important!
Special Pumpkin Carving Tip
Instead of cutting a hole in the top of the pumpkin, cut a smaller hole in the bottom, leaving the top intact. Place the carved pumpkin over a battery operated candle on a flat surface.
After you remove the top or carve a hole through the bottom, use a short handled spoon to dig out the seeds and scrape the goop off the inside of the pumpkin. Put the seeds into a bowl and refrigerate them. They taste great oven roasted with a little salt.
After you’ve got the pumpkin cleaned out to your satisfaction, it’s time to decide on the face.
Tips for a Design
Using a pencil, lightly draw the design you want on the pumpkin. When you’re sure you have what you want, go over the design with a heavier marker to make it easier to see.
Cut out your design on paper, tape the design onto the pumpkin and trace the design into the skin using thin nails to poke holes. Remove the paper and then draw over the design to make it easier to see for carving.
Using the pointed end of the knife and with a very firm grip on the pumpkin, begin to carve out the parts of the face. Use a sawing, in and out motion with firm pressure, moving a little bit forward with each stroke.
Once you’ve cut all around the design you should be able to push the pieces out with a gentle pressure from inside the pumpkin. If the pieces don’t come out easily, gently run the knife around the edges again. Try to pop out the design in one piece because the extra parts can be carved up to make eye balls and ears!
After you have the initial cuts done you can go back and do the finishing touches. Trim away any rough edges; angle your cuts at a 45 degree angle into the pumpkin. Your lantern will glow brighter without the shadows from the edges to get in the way.
Jack O’ Lantern With Character
Using the pieces you cut out, carve some into shapes to use for eyeballs or ears. Push one end of a toothpick into the small piece and use the other end to mount the piece in the eye, ear or nose hole. When the light shines through, you will have an awesome effect!
Add a battery operated flameless candle and turn out the lights! For the first couple days your lantern will look great in the fireplace surrounded by other candles. Once it starts to get too soft it’s best to put it on your doorstep to welcome your Trick-or-Treaters!
Most important of all – have a good time!
Tips and Tricks for a Fun Filled Pumpkin Carving Ritual
- Spread newspaper on the table before you begin for an easy clean up!
- Children love to be creative. Let them draw the face but make sure an adult is doing the carving!
- If you want to prevent the top from falling into the lantern after a few days, try cutting out a hole from the bottom instead of the top! Then put the lantern over the candle on a flat surface.
- Use a white, ghost pumpkin for a specially eerie looking lantern, outlining the cut outs with a dark marker.
Make Your Pumpkin Jack O’ Lantern Last Longer
- After carving, soak the pumpkin in a weak solution of bleach and water for about five minutes to kill any bacteria or fungus that may increase decay.
- Pat dry after soaking and lightly coat inside and out of the pumpkin with a layer of petroleum jelly, sealing all cut edges with a slightly thicker coat to seal out air and discourage bugs or small predators.