n the eighteenth century, folks in certain parts of Europe worried about ghosts wandering the earth on Halloween. At some point, some worthy soul was inspired to carve a face on a hollowed-out vegetable and stick a lit candle inside, in hopes that the sight of the thing would scare away those damned souls who wandered too near the carver's home.
The good news is that hardly anyone who did the carved-vegetable thing got mauled or mangled by a vengeful wraith on Halloween. The bad news is that the vegetable of choice at the time was a turnip. Okay, could have been worse. I'm thinking potatoes, carrots, celery. You get the picture. Run screaming forward in time to the nineteenth century.
Hundreds of thousands of immigrants head for the United States due to a shortage of the aforementioned potatoes. These people made two discoveries -- one, the U.S. isn't exactly a hotbed of suitable-for-carving turnips, and two, carving wee faces on purple vegetables isn't exactly the best way to convince your new neighbors that you're going to become a productive part of the community, and in extreme cases can get you teased and/or mildly beaten up. Enter the pumpkin.
Those folk who, steeped in the tradition of their homeland, were less than willing to risk being bodily violated by new-world things from beyond the grave discovered that pumpkins were excellent targets for face carving. In fact, even the wimpiest orange gourd could kick a turnip's purple little butt.
And so a new tradition was born. Today, carving jack-o-lanterns has surpassed soaping windows, bobbing for apples, and moving the outhouse on the list of top Halloween pastimes. But there's still room for improvement.
Think about it this way -- the whole point of a jack-o-lantern is to look scary, right? Well how many of our traditional monsters have big orange heads? The headless horseman? Doesn't count -- he uses a jack-o-lantern, making the argument circular. Jack Pumpkinhead? Same problem. Newt Gingrich? Okay, yes, but he's not exactly topical anymore, now is he?
At this point, you're wondering where I'm going with this. All right, I'll spell it out for you: Frankenstein's monster -- big green head. Creature from the Black Lagoon -- big green head. Zombie -- green head (not big, kind of pale, but green). You can't do these guys justice with a pumpkin. So let's talk watermelon. The evolutionary path is obvious. Turnip, crank it up a level to pumpkin, crank it up a level to watermelon.
The watermelon has a number of other advantages over the pumpkin. For one, the insides are actually good to eat. Sure you can bake pumpkin seeds, but who does, and who cares? You can actually devour a whole watermelon as you hollow it out, as opposed to just throwing blobs of pumpkin glop away as you scoop the sucker out. For two, the watermelon is a much more natural head shape. Who the heck has big pumpkinny creases running down their face. Not anybody I know.
For three, the bloody red interior of a watermelon is inherently creepy, particularly in contrast with its green skin. There's not much contrast between orange insides and orange outsides.
And for four, watermelons are so dark that they're practically invisible at night, leaving nothing but their glowing eyes and grins showing.
Think about it. Make the right decision. The future of Halloween is in your knifewielding hands. --D.C.