Pumpkin jack-o'-lanterns have become a familiar sight around Halloween. But have you heard of a ghost turnip? Or better yet, a ghost potato?
As the story goes, jack-o'-lanterns originated from the Celtic festival of Samhain and were used to frighten away wandering spirits. However, you wouldn’t have seen pumpkins on doorsteps 200 years ago. Instead, many Irish and Scottish people made their jack-o'-lanterns out of root vegetables like turnips and potatoes. Today, you can find an example of a “Ghost Turnip” in the National Museum of Ireland.
When Celtic people moved to North America, they began using native foods, such as pumpkins, to carve their Halloween decorations. And so, the pumpkin jack-o'-lantern was born!
Left: A plaster cast of a traditional jack-o’-lantern made from a turnip,
photographed at the Museum of Country Life, Ireland. Image by Rannpháirtí anaithnid, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Right: A halloween postcard from 1911 featuring a pumpkin jack-o’–lantern.
Image from the New York Public Library.
To honor this Halloween history, we thought it would be fun to try something a little different this year. We’re going to make a jack-o'-lantern with a potato!
What You’ll Need:
- A medium or large potato
- A marker
- A pumpkin carving knife
- A spoon
- A small tea light or LED candle
2. Cut off the top. Carefully slice the top of your potato to create the “lid” and set aside for later.
3. Use a marker to draw your design. For a classic look, you can draw eyes, a nose, and a mouth on the potato.
4. Scoop out your potato. Using a spoon, carefully scoop out the inside of your potato. Be careful not to get too close to the edges. You don’t want to break through the skin!
5. Carve your design. Using a knife, carefully carve out the design you drew in marker. Parents may want to help with this part.
6. Add some light. Once you’ve finished your design, place a small tea light or an LED candle inside your potato to make it glow.
7. Display your ghost potato. Put your lid on the potato and place your new ghost potato in a window for all to see. If your potato has a hard time standing up, you can place it in a candle holder.
Want to learn more Halloween history? Check out our blog post here. And if you’re looking for more crafts to do this October, don’t forget to look up our kids magazine. Each issue features history-inspired activities for your kids to explore.