Growing up, our Halloween lanterns were made not from pumpkins— which we didn’t have in Scotland in the 1970s—but from the turnips that my father grew. My husband loves this story, seeing it as an example of bleak Scottish determination: to carve out the flesh of cold, hard turnips purely for entertainment. But of course, there was more to it than that.
The Halloween turnip lantern has its origins in the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain. Held in late October, it marked the end of the Celtic year, the end of crop harvest and the changeover to winter. It was believed that at Samhain, the divide between the worlds of the living and the dead opened up for a night. Bonfires were burned to ward off any emerging evil spirits, and carved turnip lanterns were used to carry embers from the bonfire to the homestead to ensure warmth through the long winter.
As children, we carried the descendants of these ancient turnip lanterns as we went round the neighbors each Halloween “guising,” a Scottish version of trick or treat.
Unfortunately, many turnips I see at the market here are much smaller than the “Swedes” I knew as a child, so the whole idea of a turnip lantern is lost in translation.… Read the rest